Mancunian Alex Stewart is certainly going places. He’s progressed in confidence since I first heard him in March. Last night was his very first full London gig, and it was announced that he’ll be back in London for the London Jazz Festival. He’s twenty-one, and by the end of the evening he had, coincidentally, nailed a varied menu of exactly twenty-one songs – some jazz standards, some Paul Simon, a few Alex Webb originals, and a gentle encore of his own – with assuredness and conviction.
The voice has real colour and character -the names of both Kurt Elling and Michael Buble were getting whisperd around the place. And as the evening progressed, the confidence, the energy level, the temperature , and the audience’s enjoyment were all notching higher, bit by bit.
There was a palpable uptick in the oomph level at the beginning of second set. The person to my left was both so shaken, and so stirred- as I was too- by the felicitous, confident phrasing, by the rhythmic drive and life in East of the Sun, by the hard swinging trio of melodic Alex Webb, ever-assured Gary Crosby and super-supportive Andy Chapman….she started swaying and happily grooving to the music. Our table was moving so violently, we were seconds away from the contents of my cup of coffee flying everywhere. I go to a lot of gigs, but it’s not every day I listen to East of the Sun while holding a coffee cup proudy aloft. LondonJazz readers will have their own tales like this (???)
The stage got busier for the final few numbers with the arrival of Denys Baptiste on tenor. In Body and Soul he was cool and Ben Websterish. Then Alex Webb told an unrepeatable (ask him or me) Norfolk joke, and the whole band, but especially Baptiste, blistered through blues choruses in Webb’s catchy A Waste of a Love Affair. This was that rarest of songs: one dedicated to the women who lead men on and then dash their hopes…..
Stewart’s journey as a singer will be an interesting one. There are choices to be made. At the simple level there is the decision of whether to use Alexander, the nine letter/four syllable form of his christian name or its shortened form ( a familiar one to me, similarly afflicted…) or the shorter Alex.
And then there are the more interesting choices. Since Stewart already has his ratpacking skills all present and much more than correct, it’s now a question of where he goes next, what repertoire predominates. It’s the unknown, and it will be fascinating, because this is a voice people will want to hear. In the words of the song…. watch what happens.