Idaho native and Gene Harris Protégé Curtis Stigers has a voice that is the love child of Harry Connick, Jr. and Betty Carter. His delivery has a rough humor not to be taken too seriously, but serious enough for jazz art. On Baby Plays Around, Stigers basically sings the Chet Baker Songbook in a most un-Chet Baker manner. Everything is here, except "My Funny Valentine." Where Baker sings as a wounded bird, Stigers projects an "Ah Shucks", stuff-happens quality that is immediately likable. Just check out "But Not For Me," The listener might think Baker is near suicidal, while Stigers is just ready to move on. The same with "Let's Get Lost". From Baker's mouth, this song is more about sex appeal of the needle (not a bad metaphor), as opposed to Stigers flirting, carefree fun that precedes consummation.
Stigers' tenor is not half bad. He claims that when a "real" tenor man enters the room, he quickly becomes a singer, but he can certainly hold his own on the blues and ballads as evidenced by a lyrical "Parker's Mood". Which brings us to the disc centerpiece— an incandescent vocalese, "Billie's Bounce". This song is simply phenomenal. Stigers sings very fast, almost spinning from the control of that Parker blues. Stigers has been highlighted on several of the late Gene Harris's recordings, including Down Home Blues and In His Hands. His band is peppered with interesting people. Larry Goldings leaves his Hammond B-3 for the piano and Randy Brecker shows up with his round trumpet tone. The rhythm section is divided, with both sets performing admirably.
Stigers' debut as a leader on Concord Jazz is a welcome one. This is the best jazz vocal disc I have heard this year.
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