Although his teen years were spent in rock music and blues, Curtis Stigers seems to have found a home in jazz, judging from the string of albums he's put together during his career. The latest, Real Emotional, newly released on the Concord label, continues a trend that over the last decade and a half has pretty much established the singer/saxophonist as one of the best around.
During those early years he was lacking a little focus, but by the time he'd reached adulthood and moved from his native Idaho to New York, he'd begun to concentrate on jazz. The 1990s saw him bloom as a regular in many jazz clubs and as a recording artist, with his debut album reaching best-seller status.
Since then he's released several other successful albums and has become a regular on the Billboard charts. He's also shown up in some surprising places, including movie and TV soundtracks, and has worked and recorded with artists such as Jackson Browne and Gene Harris.
On this album, Stigers is the star — especially on the vocals. Even though John Pizzarelli (who is a pretty fair singer himself) is one of the sidemen, he's just here to play his guitar. In addition to Pizzarelli, Stigers is joined by Larry Goldings on accordion and keyboards, Matthew Fries on piano, John Sneider on trumpet, drummer Keith Hall, and Phil Palombi on bass.
It's a talented group that shows a real affinity for the material here, which is mostly classic jazz standards with a few surprises thrown in, including several tunes written by Stigers himself. There was nothing wrong with those, but I thought the strongest performances in the album were on songs written by others, especially Dylan's "I'll Be Your Baby Tonight," and "San Diego Serenade," a Tom Waits tune that's given a new interpretation with Stigers' mellow tones — both vocally and on his tenor sax, a nice bonus.
I also enjoyed "Night Owl," with Stigers' smoky vocals backed by Sneider's trumpet, combining to set a perfect mood. There are some surprises here. Paul Simon's "American Tune" is a little different from what you might expect, as is that old classic, "Stardust," but both give us something new and refreshing.
Songwriter Randy Newman's "Real Emotional Girl" inspired the title of this album, and at times Stigers' singing is reminiscent of Newman (but better). I especially noticed it on "Your Mind Is On Vacation," which takes right off with Stigers' skillful sax solo morphing into his vocal, again followed by Sneider's golden horn but with the added contributions of Goldings on the Hammond organ. One of my favorites.
A good effort from Stigers and his pals, highly recommended.
1. I'll Be Your Baby Tonight
2. I Only Want to Be with You
3. I Don't Wanna Talk About It Now
4. As You Turn to Go
5. San Diego Serenade
6. Woman Just Like You
7. American Tune
8. Night Owl
9. Your Mind Is on Vacation
10. I Need You
12. Real Emotional Girl