Jazz singer Tierney Sutton uses her voice like certain painters use color. Ever inspired by the emotional possibilities of musical tints and hues, she never lets the narrative of a song impede her imagination or daring.
At The Egg last Friday, Sutton cut a bright path through the American songbook with longtime band mates Christian Jacob on piano, Kevin Axt on bass and Ray Brinker on drums. “We’ve been together for more than 17 years,” she announced at the beginning of the show, like a woman proud of a long marriage. The musicians collaborate closely with the singer on all arrangements, and play with such intimacy they do almost seem to be finishing each others’ phrasing.
The whole gang of American popular song was there—Cole Porter, Henry Mancini, Harold Arlen, Irving Berlin. Sutton opened with a swooping version of Porter’s “Out of This World,” then moved to a trio of Berlin tunes, where she demonstrated the essence of her musical identity. She transformed Berlin’s “Let’s Face the Music and Dance” into a kaleidoscope of sparkling accents; turned “Cheek to Cheek” into a expressionist fandango; and pulled the cord tight on “Blue Skies,” replacing its jaunty optimism with her own blue-period rumination.
Nimble wordplay is one of the pleasures with the old-school songwriters, but all evening Sutton managed to outshine lyric and rhyme with the inventiveness of her vocalization, only about two-thirds of which was in English. The rest was ebullient scatting, set off against Jacob’s laconic keyboard, Axe’s inventive bass lines, and Brinker’s often feverish tattoos. (Literally on this night—after Sutton syncopated the Peggy Lee hit “Fever,” she informed the audience that her drummer was working despite having the flu.)
Much of the fun of hearing Sutton live is the dead-on accuracy of her vocal precision. This is not a singer who slides into the note; but lands both feet square in the middle every time, no matter what tempo. Her flawless technique means she needn’t resort to smokier, gutsier ways of getting a song across, which is not always to her benefit. An evening with Tierney Sutton does not leave claw marks on the heart.
But that’s not why we go to see her. It’s for the way she can surprise us with a new vision of a song: a bright impasto on Johnny Mercer’s “Skylark”; cubist angles on “My Favorite Things”; an ash-can weariness to “Happy Days Are Here Again.” At the end of the evening, you’ve not only heard a great concert, but also been to a terrific exhibition.
Review by Timothy Cahill
Photographs by Andrzej Pilarczyk
Greg Haymes’ review at The Times Union
Excerpt from Matthew Maguire’s review at The Daily Gazette: “Only top-flight players can accompany such singing, and Sutton’s crew is up to it. Especially striking was the assertive playing of drummer Ray Brinker. He worked mostly with brushes, generating intensity without volume and creativity without showmanship. Amidst all this rhythmic creativity, it is ironic and noteworthy that one clear highlight of the evening was perhaps the most conventionally played jazz tune: A stirring and moving version of Billy Barnes’ ‘Something Cool.’ Standards become standards in the jazz canon by offering their interpreters so many paths to creativity. That’s a core value of jazz, and one that Tierney Sutton and her trio strongly reaffirmed.”
THE TIERNEY SUTTON BAND SET LIST
Out of This World
Let’s Face the Music and Dance
Cheek to Cheek
East of the Sun (And West of the Moon)
Two for the Road
The Lady Is a Tramp
It’s All Right With Me
Happy Days Are Here Again
Happy Days Are Here Again
Day In, Day Out
Footprints/My Favorite Things
It’s Only a Paper Moon