Baby Plays Around

Curtis Stigers

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Baby Plays Around Review

by Alex Henderson

Those who think of singer/saxman Curtis Stigers as a pop/rock artist and associate him with "I Wonder Why" and "Peace, Love and Understanding" will be surprised to learn that Baby Plays Around is very much a jazz album -- not jazzy pop, but straight-ahead acoustic jazz. Not that there is any reason why someone with pop/rock credentials can't embrace jazz if his heart is really in it; after all, jazz and rock are both part of the blues family. And even though some pretentious individuals in the jazz world love to state that jazz is "America's classical music," the fact is that jazz has more in common with rock and R&B than with Beethoven or Mozart. Stigers thrived on that blues feeling as a pop/rock singer in the early '90s, and he thrives on it as a jazz singer. While Stigers was often compared to Van Morrison and John Hiatt in the early '90s, Baby Plays Around finds him drawing on influences that range from Jon Hendricks and Mark Murphy to Chet Baker. In fact, one of the songs he embraces is "Let's Get Lost," which Baker defined in the 1950s. Much of the time, Stigers is in crooner mode, providing dusky, relaxed interpretations of "All the Things You Are," "You Are Too Beautiful," and "Everything Happens to Me," as well as Randy Newman's "Marie." Stigers doesn't inundate his listeners with technique, although his lightning-fast version of Charlie Parker's "Billie's Bounce" underscores his ability to handle the demands of vocalese and hard bop. The singer (who plays sax on Harry "Sweets" Edison's "Centerpiece" and Parker's "Parker's Mood") doesn't stay away from overdone standards, but to his credit, he also picks some tunes that haven't been done to death. "Marie," for example, is a great song that many of the more myopic jazz singers wouldn't consider recording. Baby Plays Around falls short of remarkable, but it's a pleasant, likable effort that has more pluses than minuses -- and is a reminder that people who are known for pop/rock needn't stay away from straight-ahead jazz if they really know their stuff.

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