Howard Reich, Chicago Tribune, August 2002

Accomplished young male jazz singers are not easy to find these days, but a particularly promising one happens to be based in Chicago.

A few years ago, Steve Evans was a fledgling vocalist who decided that he needed to learn a lot more about the art of jazz. So he enrolled at the Berklee College of Music in Boston, studied improvisational technique and recently returned to Chicago, which long has served as a launching pad for dynamic young talent.

The singer, who has opened a monthlong engagement at Pops for Champagne, clearly has transformed himself. Though there's no mistaking the earlier hallmarks of his work – including a warm timbre and a light, lyric tone – his ability to finesse fast-moving bebop lines and to create distinctly individual phrasings has improved dramatically.

Indeed, it would not be an exaggeration to note that Evans' debut as a bona fide jazz singer is the most exciting since Kurt Elling appeared on the local scene in the mid-1990s. But if Elling drew deeply on the work of Mark Murphy, Evans has found inspiration in the art of an earlier stylist, Mel Torme.

Or at least there's no ignoring the similarities in sound and style between the two singers. Like Torme, Evans commands an uncommonly nimble instrument that also proves effective in ballads. One also can detect the influence of Jon Hendricks, but every male scat singer working today has had to come to terms with Hendricks' stylistic and technical achievements.

If Evans seemed to open a recent set somewhat nonchalantly, with a medium-swing version of "Where or When," the sleekness of his vocal lines and the elan of his phrasings were harder to attain than casual listeners might have realized. And in Antonio Carlos Jobim's "Dindi," Evans' decision to reach for notes an octave higher than his natural register pointed to an artist unafraid of novel interpretations.

Most contemporary jazz singers want to prove their mettle in uptempo tours de force, and Evans did so exceptionally well in Duke Ellington's "Cottontail" (with lyrics by Hendricks). Taking the showpiece at a brisk clip, Evans articulated fast-flying sixteenth notes with apparent ease. Equally important, he captured the rhythmic buoyancy and exuberance that the tune demands. With each number, Evans sounded more self-assured, producing a remarkably polished account of "Spring Is Here" and an unabashedly idiosyncratic version of "Moody's Mood for Love."

Some of the most disarming music of the set was penned by Evans and pianist Esteban Sehinkman, who have the makings of a hit with a bluesy romp they call "Spare Change."