Anthony Strong – Stepping Out
It seems these days that any suited young male with a half decent croon is greeted with rejoicing open arms by the music industry, and it’s been much the same with Anthony Strong.
The Croydon born pianist and singer hailed as “the next jazz superstar from England” has won support slots with BB King, sold out Ronnie Scott’s and – as his website is keen to point out – had no shortage of accolades from the likes of Jamie Cullum and Rod Stewart.
However, while praise from the latter two artists ought to put any self-respecting jazz fan on their guard, Anthony Strong’s latest album does indeed feel like the business.
Opening with the Cole Porter’s Too Darn Hot, we’re thrown straight into a mix of scat, funk and a touch of sweet swing. His voice is warm, smooth and unwavering without being particularly distinctive, fitting snugly between his piano and the rest of his trio and the horn section that feature throughout the album.
The album is made up of five originals, eight standards and the Stevie Wonder track Overjoyed. The standards are mostly well delivered: Luck Be A Lady sounds contemporary, some nice bluesy piano is displayed on Stepping Out With My Baby and the version of My Ship is an unusual but fun take on the Kurt Weill and Ira Gershwin song, giving it a breezy feel reminiscent of Weather Report’s more poppy moments or the jazzier moments of Toto.
Strong’s own compositions are solid and technically sound. Change My Ways is a fun and confident tongue-twisting romp, while Someone Knows, though by no means a great composition, is equally assured and bright, the arrangement and performance making it one of the standout tracks.
Strong’s original compositions are generally more stage school than smoky bar; more Andrew Lloyd Webber than Chet Baker. Learning to Unlove You in particular gets dangerously close to a Glee moment, and Falling in Love, with it’s racy strings and rather clichéd lyrics is a bit Michael Bublé.
Like so many modern jazz vocal albums, the main disappointment with this is the overly commercial feel. Anthony Strong is clearly a talented performer and songwriter, but his personality as an artist is smothered by the pop values of the production: the songs are too many and too short and any soloing is restrained and unimaginative. While it never gets syrupy or properly tacky, the general emphasis here seems to be a tad more on slickness than soul.
Stepping Out was released on 18th April.
Watch a promo video for Stepping Out here: