Given the huge success of the British invasion in pop and rock music, one has to wonder why the Brits have not had the same kind of impact over the years when it came to jazz. Sure there have been the likes of the late George Shearing and the dynamic Dave Holland and John McLaughlin, but as talented as they are, they have never come close to influencing jazz in the same way as the Beatles and the Stones did rock.
Along comes Anthony Strong, singer, pianist, composer, a jazz artist with a truly fresh sound, and while a Beatles-type invasion may be too fanciful to even talk about, if his new album, Stepping Out, is any indication, a British skirmish is not out of the question. Anthony Strong is a singer in the mold of Sinatra. He cites some of the best of the modern singers—Kurt Elling, Harry Connick, Jr., Stevie Wonder—to say nothing of all-time greats like Mel Tormé and Chet Baker, among his influences. Indeed, you listen to Strong sing and it is clear where he is coming from.
Stepping Out is a 14-track set featuring seven standards, five original compositions, and two pop covers. He opens with a steaming version of Cole Porter’s “Too Darn Hot” from Kiss Me Kate which you can check out on YouTube. Nigel Hitchcock solos on tenor sax. His arrangement of “Luck Be a Lady” is classic with a big band sound and a striking trumpet solo from James Morrison.
His treatment of the standards is never derivative. As he explained in an interview with the website, Naïve: “I often sit at the piano and I wonder how I’ll make it ‘my’ thing? How can I arrange it to bring freshness? I like to take liberties with rhythm and harmony: writing new harmonies on an old song, changing the tempo or the groove of a song… Each time, it means giving the song a new life.” Just listen to his treatment of Irving Berlin’s “Stepping Out With My Baby,” and he is equally creative with his rapid fire version of “Witchcraft.”
Even his work on a newer piece like “L.O.V.E.” demonstrates the way he plays with tempos and his innovative approach to the material. If creative innovation is what the jazz musician is about, Anthony Strong is the real thing.
His original music is an attempt to mirror the real thing as well: “I like trying to write ‘new’ standards that will sound ‘vintage.’ I secretly hope that the audience won’t tell the difference between my own songs and the standards.” “Change My Ways” has him ripping through the song both vocally and on the piano with classic bop speed. “Someone Knows” has that big sound with the addition of strings in the arrangement. Brandon Allen has a hot tenor solo. He closes the set with a stripped-down performance of “Learning to Unlove You,” just the singer and the piano. It makes for an effective ending to a fine album.
Turns out Susan Stamberg interviewed Strong on NPR this weekend. It seems the invasion has started.