The Times: Curtis Stigers, at Ronnie Scott’s, W1
Clive Davis – 4 stars
Midway through one song, Curtis Stigers’s microphone fell apart. Luckily, the number happened to be You’re All That Matters to Me, the blue-eyed soul hit that helped define his career a couple of decades ago, so his fans were able to fill in the lyrics without missing a beat. “It happened on the right song, at least,” he quipped, as he toyed with a recalcitrant cable. His stage manner is as droll and quick-witted as the very best stand-up comedian’s.
A fair section of the Ronnie Scott’s audience had come precisely to hear the American singer revisit his early hits. But most of the jazzerati know that he has moved on a long way since then. Having reinvented himself as a jazz singer, Stigers is now one of the most sophisticated acts on the circuit. If it has taken some reviewers a long time to forgive him his pop star past, he seems to be winning the critical battle. I can’t think of a vocalist who manages to blend so many styles without lapsing into pastiche. He may not possess the ultra-hip cachet of, say, the virtuosic Kurt Elling, yet his performances deliver a weightier emotional punch.
His residency gives him a chance to showcase his latest recording, Let’s Go Out Tonight, a pensive, wee-small-hours-of-the-morning set that includes covers of Bob Dylan, Eddie Floyd and Richard Thompson, as well as the Blue Nile’s title tune. If the introspection sometimes threatened to become claustrophobic in the studio, Stigers kept self-indulgence at bay on the bandstand by cleverly juggling old and new material. I never tire of hearing his sultry, swinging take on the Arthur Crudup warhorse That’s All Right. Stigers even puts Elvis in the shade.
The shimmering guitar of James Scholfield adds a fresh set of colours to the band’s imposingly broad palette. Trumpeter John Sneider supplies his usual delicate shadings, while the rhythm section of pianist Matthew Fries, drummer Keith Hall and bassist Cliff Schmitt remains a model of understated momentum. A playful master of ceremonies, Stigers could not resist teasing us about the England team’s exit from Euro 2012. He knows a thing or two about British beer as well. But when he wants to be serious, as on a heart-stopping version of All the Things You Are, he digs deep. Do not miss him.