There must be a dream factory somewhere, a place where crooners are manufactured. Well there definitely is a crooner style and sound among new Britjazz singers, and it usually involves a suit, a sharp haircut and a knowing look. Alexander Stewart and Theo Jackson are just two of the latest to emerge, and ex-West End theatre singer Anthony Strong follows quickly on from these Manchester and London jazz stars in the making. A crooner and piano player, he has the suit of course, and the hair. With the trace of his own shadow on the wall Strong stands almost but not quite the rebel on a sofa on the cover of Stepping Out (Naïve **1/2). There’s a strong cast of players on this album with bass duties shared by Tom Farmer and Calum Gourlay; and former Jamie Cullum drummer Sebastiaan de Krom and Matt Skelton the sticksmen involved, on a selection of the 14 tracks here. Guitarist Chris Allard completes the core band, with guests Aussie trumpeter James Morrison, saxophonists Brandon Allen and Nigel Hitchcock, with still more players in the horn section and strings as well. I really didn’t warm to the rinky-dinky way the horns have been recorded (it’s just the audio style incidentally not the playing which is perfectly fine), but more than this Strong really doesn’t make his presence felt. The song choices are good, although you can’t really go wrong with ‘Witchcraft’, ‘Too Darn Hot’ and ‘My Ship’, yet the album sounds as if it’s going through the motions. Strong’s voice is like a younger, more bashful, Jamie Cullum and owes a debt to Harry Connick Jr; and it’s clearly too early to talk about an individual sound. Dream factories are all very well, but no one can create raw excitement on demand, and that’s an element Stepping Out could do with. MB
Stephen Graham 

Anthony Strong above