Linda Norris Auditorium
WAMC Performing Art Center
January 13, 2006
by Randy Treece
One of the wondrous aspects of jazz is its evolving and evocable nature to absorb influences from a broad spectrum of artistry. A contemporary proponent and perceptive purveyor of this precept is the irrepressible Concord Recording artist, the versatile, the unflappable, Curtis Stigers, who rolled into the Linda on a blister wintery evening to render a warm and generous dose of musical gumbo to a tightly-knit, loyal, and jealously receptive band of fans.
Although a national fascination with his immense talents has yet to occur, Stigers is unquestionably firmly perched in the forefront of this generation of jazz vocalists, who are finding their own voice and carving their own niche. Those who have unwittingly assigned Stigers to be an exponent of the banal smooth jazz genre, solely because of his earlier dalliances as a rock singer, would be mildly surprised to know that he has truly blossomed and successfully transitioned into a jazz vocalist, par excellence in the most robust intimation of the word.
Displaying his remarkably vast talents as a keenly perceptive interpreter of modern songs, Stigers is a sturdy and credible saxophonist, a formidable lyricist, with serious vocal pipes. The fulcrum that balances all of these diverse talents is an exceptional stage presence complimented with natural wit. His banter between songs was clever, void of self-indulgence, and quite entertaining. The lynch pin of his success, however, is that the man can swing, and swing hard.
Augmenting his artistry were the serious musical cohorts of Matthew Fries on piano, Phil Palombi on bass, and Keith Hall, the "minister of drums", as Stigers refers to him, collectively known as Tri-Fi. A delightful and complementary rhythm section who held their own on their solos.
The voice, well the voice is one of the most distinctive voices of this generation. It is wrapped with a warm, charming texture, colored by a regionally distinct diction presumably fermented by his Boise Idaho upbringing that is uncannily imbued with a shading of southern comfort. The complement to his vocal articulation is his musical vision which uniquely encompasses the music of every stripe from this era. It has been Stigers's mission not to solely resort to the hackneyed staple of jazz, tin pan alley and show tunes standards, although he has not eschewed them entirely. He has come to rely upon his eclectic taste in music and his varied musical experiences to scour the music universe which is unsuspectingly fertile with lush and "in vogue" imagery and poignant stories that certainly one day will be jazz standards in their own right. With this coherent recipe, Stigers has become inimitable and unquestionably interesting.
All of the evening's selections were a highlight and the show remained upbeat throughout - warm, cozy, familiar and fun filled. As a counterpoint to the dreadful chill outside, Stigers jump started the evening with a rousing rendition of That All Right Mama, made famous by Elvis Presley. The difference between the two versions is that Stigers' interpretation had a more bluesy, juke joint nuance about it especially when Stigers took to the sax. As the evening progressed, Stigers settled into a focus on his latest album, I Think It Is Going To Rain Today with an emphasis on his original songs and those songwriters that captivated his psyche. The prelude of You're All That Matters to Me, an original composition, was punctuated with humor and a scat mimicking Stigers playing his first instrument, the drums, which agilely segued into a splendid song that swung. Another original composition, Columbus Avenue, regales us with a true intimate love story with his wife spawned in the heart of the New York City, an acknowledgment of the matchless and romantic character of the Big Apple, confirming that he is a masterful storyteller. Personal intimacy did not end there as he then spun a story of a loving evening with his daughter Ruby, an infant at the time, in Lullabye on the Hudson. This was a heartwarming song with mirthful and magical lyrics which authenticates him as a first-rate poet, as well. On his quest to gather up stellar current songs, Joe Jackson's Fools in Love, sung ferociously by Stigers, appears poised to become one of his signature songs.
Ad-libbing with a smidgen of devilish whimsy, Stigers found a squeaky board on stage and employed the squeak to set the tempo for Willie's Dixon's My Babe, which was transmuted into a spry winsome version of this blues staple. From the blues to the Beatles, Stigers drew upon one of their music chestnut, I Feel Fine, and the song never sounded better. You could not help but grin throughout the song as the musicians recast the rock anthem into one that swings and that grin became a chuckle when Stigers interjected a falsetto repartee between a female character and a self-assured male suitor abut how strongly she felt about her man. Accompanied only by a pianist, Stigers gave a respectful and loving praise to an underappreciated, some believe misunderstood, songwriter, Randy Newman as he graced I Think It Is Going To Rain Today with a sensitivity that it deserves; a tremendous song and a tremendous jazz adaptation. And he translated Merle Haggard's Crazy Moon into a more jocular, bouncy story of unrequited love. Sting's I Can't Stand Losing You was enveloped with loving care and treatment.
Stigers reached into his rock past and preened with jazz flourishes an original composition, I Wonder Why, which had previously earned him kudos and royalties. The modern version with its new anointments was sublime and should earn him greater applause. Giving a nod to jazz purists, Stigers wielded a muscular and feverish scat through the bebop changes on Charlie Parker's Billy Bounce that would make Eddie Jefferson proud. He concluded the song with yet another entertaining and jovial scat as a bassist, imitating numerous bass improvisational
statements. Stigers concluded the evening with a remarkable rendition of Bob Dylan's Don't Think Twice.
This is a musician deserving of wider recognition. Overflowing with the element of swing, a penchant for phenomenal songs, and intoxicating delivery, this creative soul is creating a wonderful bridge between the refineries of traditional jazz and the best this era of songwriters has to offer.
For those who wish to hear more of Stigers, I recommend Baby Plays Around , You Inspire Me, and I Think It Is Going To Rain Today, all on Concord Records. For more information, you can visit his website at: http:// www.curtistigers.com.
Randy Treece is an avid and ubiquitous fan of jazz music, especially on the local scene. For many years he has contributed jazz artist reviews for "A Place For Jazz "and has written album reviews on request by jazz artists. Randy resides in Albany and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.