Recent Listening: The Tierney Sutton Band

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.

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  1. says

    Tierney Sutton is one of the most talented jazz vocalists on the planet; a true musician’s singer with good taste. It’s very brave of her, having chosen so many only-seemingly old fashioned standards for her new CD release.

    One of my favorites (I’ve talked about that some weeks ago) is her collaboration with Marian McPartland, where Henry Mancini’s “Two For The Road”—another forgotten song—stands out as a highly individual, beautiful interpretation.

    This album will be the next to buy on my list. Thanks for the recommendation.

    P.S. — Although I have not included Tierney Sutton in my new blog post about The Irresistible Female Touch In Swing & Jive, she, being a class act herself, would clearly belong to those groovy gals.

    Maybe I will post a follow-up thread with contemporary jazz women? Time will tell.

    Another P.S. — Covering a number like Route 66 after all those brilliant versions, done by the likes of Nat ‘King’ Cole, Chuck Berry, or composer Bobby Troup could be quite a risk; but not so for Tierney Sutton.

    She and her splendid band took that long old road with bravura. Got my kicks for sure :)