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Curtis Stigers: Baby Plays Around

Jim Santella By

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While still a teenager, Curtis Stigers sat in with Gene Harris on Tuesday nights in his hometown of Boise, Idaho. His seamless vocal phrasing and soulful expression seem made for jazz singing. Stigers started his professional career playing tenor sax in local blues bands. No wonder he sounds, at times, like Ray Charles. And yet, Curtis Stigers made his first claim to fame ten years ago, singing soft pop and watching his hits climb the charts.

This mainstream jazz album places a different emphasis on his singing and introduces his tenor saxophone sound to a wider audience. "Let's Get Lost" invites comparisons to another good-looking, horn-playing singer. Stingers is quite at ease with lyrics as well as scat singing. He and Larry Goldings collaborated on "Love," a gentle bossa nova that draws stronger ties to the singing of Chet Baker. Adding improvised saxophone choruses to "Centerpiece" and "Parker's Mood," Stigers shows off a natural feel for the music and offers proof that he's done a whole lotta listening. But his vocalese and scat singing on "Billie's Bounce" proves that Stigers is dead serious about jazz singing.

Randy Brecker lends a welcome helping hand on "But Not for Me" and "All of You," while Goldings holds down the piano chair throughout the session with a soulful nod to Gene Harris. As Neil Tesser points out in the album's thoroughgoing liner notes, Stigers has inherited characteristics of most of the widely known male jazz singers. His natural affinity for jazz singing, however, has produced an album that's sure to please those of us who consistently lament that there just aren't enough good male singers around any more.

Title: Baby Plays Around | Year Released: 2001 | Record Label: Prestige

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