This nearly completes reviews of albums I voted for in the Rhapsody jazz critics poll as 2011’s best.
The Tierney Sutton Band, American Road (BFM)
Sutton and her band apply their musicianship, intensity and camaraderie to a dozen American songs. The pieces range across traditional music (“Oh Shenandoah/The Water is Wide,” “Wayfaring Stranger,” “Amazing Grace”); pop (“On Broadway,” “Tenderly”); songs from the theater (four by Bernstein, three by Gershwin, one by Arlen); and patriotism (“America the Beautiful”). In a duet with pianist Christian Jacob, Sutton applies delicacy to “Tenderly.” She finds just the right notes of dreamy hope in “Somewhere.” With the quartet in “My Man’s Gone Now,” following a Jacob solo that builds tension and drama, she chisels a chilling portrait of pain and despair.
A solo by Kevin Axt or Trey Henry sets up “Amazing Grace”— both bassists are on the album but not identified song by song. After one chorus from Sutton, drummer Ray Brinker’s emphatic strokes change the mood for Jacob’s solo. By the time Sutton reenters, there is an air of minor-key mystery that builds to uncertainty before she and the bass, in unison, resolve to an ending of ghostly peace. Those of us who believe that “America The Beautiful” should be the national anthem will find reinforcement in the purity of Sutton’s and Jacob’s closing duet. Sutton includes a bonus in “It Ain’t Necessarily So,” a quick biology lesson (whales aren’t fish, they’re mammals).
As I have noted more than once, these five people are not a singer and a rhythm section. They are a band. There is a lot happening in their latest collection. It has beauty, simplicity and complexity in equal measure. It deserves close listening—and rewards it.
Next time: A massive box of good old Duke Ellington, and we’ll move out of the poll business, maybe once and for all. But I’ve threatened that before.