Strange but true: the shows that I most enjoyed at last week’s Edinburgh Jazz Festival are the ones that the newspapers didn’t want me to review (reasons of timing, space and the fact that I’d last reviewed the artists not so long ago).
Indeed, both Django a la Creole (Spiegeltent on the first Saturday) and Curtis Stigers (who played five nights at the Dirty Martini at Le Monde) would have been awarded five star reviews from me, had I reviewed them for either The Herald or The Scotsman, my two main papers. The Stigers residency was particularly newsworthy, I felt: not only is it highly unusual for anyone to do more than two nights at the jazz festival these days, but this was a chance to hear a major music star (last heard here at the more formal Queen’s Hall) “up close and personal”, in an intimate venue with just a guitarist for musical company.
I went along on Stigers’s second night and was blown away. Regular readers will know of my soft spot for a great duo – and Stigers and his guitarist James Scholfield certainly proved to be one of those. With several guitars, plus Stigers’ two saxes (tenor and soprano), at their disposal, they served up a rich variety of sound combinations, while dipping into a wide range of musical genres. (It was a particular treat to hear some instrumental duets which, with Scholfield’s classy, colourful and swinging style and Stigers’s energetic and lyical sax playing, evoked at times the sound and rapport of Joe Pass and Zoot Sims.)
The material they played may have seemed wide-ranging but what the numbers they played had in common, the droll Stigers pointed out, was that they were all sad songs – “or songs about sex”. None moreso than the dark Into Temptation which featured a particularly slinky and seductive soprano sax solo from Stigers.
They may have gone from rocking out one of the singer’s pop hits to gently swinging a classic ballad from the Great American Songbook , via some less familiar singer-songwriter material, but there was a flow to the music, not just because of the recurring sad/sex themes, but also because of the way in which Stigers stamps his own personality on the songs.
It was obvious, when he performed in Edinburgh in March, that (to quote the song that for me was the stand-out every time) Things Have Changed. The 2012 Stigers exudes more sad cynicism and barely suppressed anger than the Stigers we heard in Edinburgh in 2011 or 2010. The aggressive, hard-rocking, uber-catchy and wittily-worded Things Have Changed was – as he explained – written by Bob Dylan for the sleeper of a cult movie Wonder Boys (Michael Douglas, Robert Downey Jr and a plotline involving Marilyn Monroe’s cardigan), but “what Dylan doesn’t know is … he wrote it for ME!”. Bloody hell. If that song sums up how the 2012 Stigers is feeling, then anyone looking for a shallow, romantic pop song watch out.
The other recurring theme of the Stigers residency (to which I was drawn back irresistibly a further two times) was how smitten he was with the sumptuous, decadent venue – the Dirty Martini at Le Monde hotel. “I love this place; LOVE this place,” he enthused on the Tuesday. By the last night, he was saying: “I could see us coming here 40, 50 times a year. The commute’s not bad – six, seven thousand miles for me.” Things may have changed, but Mr Stigers is as smooth-talking as ever ..