Curtis Stigers at Ronnie Scott’s, W1
Clive Davis, The London Times – November 7, 2008
His visits to Frith Street are becoming something of an institution, and it is easy to understand why. Of all the singers jostling for attention at the moment, Curtis Stigers possesses by far the most winning stage manner.
If some critics still seem reluctant to forgive him his Nineties pop star past (or for those duets with Penny Smith on the reality TV show Just the Two of Us), the American jazz-blues vocalist simply goes about the business of winning converts among listeners who are not weighed down by preconceptions.
Being an Obama fan (even though he lives in resolutely red-state territory in Idaho) Stigers was in particularly cheerful form on his opening night. The jokes flowed easily, the conversation was relaxed — he seldom misses a chance to praise the virtues of British ale — and his trio was as electrifying as ever.
Although Cliff Schmitt has replaced the long-serving Phil Palombi on the double-bass, the group has lost none of its dynamism. Matthew Fries is one of the most unfussy pianists you are likely to hear, and the drummer Keith Hall’s ability to switch back and forth between bop figures, New Orleans funk and soft soul is little short of remarkable.
Stigers’s knack of unearthing distinguished contemporary material remains one of his main assets. He has an aficionado’s love of jazz, yet his tastes are anything but purist. While he can swing Bye Bye Blackbird as neatly as anyone, within minutes he will be charting an intelligent course through Ron Sexsmith’s Reason for Our Love or turning up the heat on Emmylou Harris’s sultry I Don’t Want to Talk about It Now.
The Nick Lowe song You Inspire Me remains a particular favourite, the trio rerouting the tune down a sensual Poinciana-style pulse. Amid all the joshing about the American election — Stigers exhibited the unrestrained joy of a prisoner who has emerged blinking into the sunlight — the air suddenly grew chilly as he slowed the tempo on Paul Simon’s meditative American Tune. Another world, another era.
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