James Hunter Nathan Phillips Square, Toronto ON June 24

James Hunter Nathan Phillips Square, Toronto ON June 24
This was the Anglo soul man’s fourth visit to Toronto in the last three years, and he came in on a roll. His new album, The Hard Way, has just been released to positive reviews and initially promising sales, and he surely made many more converts at this Toronto Jazz Festival appearance, his biggest gig here to date. He may have hit the stage ahead of Big Bad Voodoo Daddy, but clearly many in attendance were here for Hunter. Given a generous 90-minute set, he seized the opportunity with relish. New songs like the horn-driven romp "Don’t Do Me No Favours,” the dreamy "Carina,” and "Class Act” fit seamlessly alongside tunes from his Grammy-nominated People Gonna Talk disc. You could argue that his new material sounds a little too similar to the older songs, but when your style is as convincing and entertaining as Hunter’s, who cares? Still, it was perhaps telling that two tunes from a key influence, the Five Royales, resonated more with the crowd than his originals. In fact, one, "Baby Don’t Do It,” earned a standing ovation, thanks to Hunter’s rousing R&B shout. His competent five-piece band never overshadowed their leader or got self-indulgent on their brief solos, and the virile horn section captured the retro vibe real well. The major complaint here was that Hunter’s own very fluent Ike Turner-inflected guitar work was too muted in the mix. Thankfully, that seductive voice was in top shape, unlike its cold-ravaged state at his last club gig in the city. Also in fine form was his endearing Brit wit. His stage persona couldn’t be more unlike that of his former boss, the notoriously sour and grumpy Van Morrison. Hunter kicked off with a jazz joke ("What wears a zoot suit and walks through a picket line? Scab Calloway”), and teased the crowd frequently ("That’s a groovy stab at dancing while you’re sitting down”). In fact, he did inspire a healthy contingent of dancers, and even those remaining seated were clearly impressed. Cool stuff.