By Don Heckman
A Tierney Sutton performance is always a musical adventure, filled with unexpected twists and turns. Blessed with a warm, pliable voice and a probing musical imagination, she has enhanced her creative explorations by creating a close artistic (and business) relationship with the members of her Tierney Sutton Band – pianist Christian Jacob, drummer Ray Brinker and bassists Kevin Axt and Trey Henry, who usually alternate gigs with the Band.
On Friday night at Catalina Bar & Grill, Sutton took everything up a level, offering the rare opportunity to hear the full Tierney Sutton Band in action, with both Axt and Henry performing in tandem, adding a rich, flowing, ever-fascinating foundation to the music.
Although Sutton’s latest recording, American Road — a stunning tour through classics reaching from “Wayfaring Stranger” to “Summertime” – has just been released, she carefully selected a few songs from the CD’s fascinating program, supplementing them with other, more standard items. But what she chose provided ample opportunities to experience the pleasures of Sutton and the Sutton Band in action.
“On Broadway” was delivered with a buoyant rhythm underscoring her crisply articulated lyrics. “Tenderly,” “My Man’s Gone” and “Summertime” revealed Sutton’s way with a ballad, applying the intimacy of her sound and phrasing to utterly convincing musical story-telling. And her versions of material from Leonard Bernstein’s West Side Story further illuminated the way her unique interpretive style – with its intriguing tendency to occasionally modify pronunciations of words – can bring believable new life to familiar material. Other tunes — Without A Song” and “The Best Is Yet To Come” — took Sutton into the area of standards with ease and confidence.
All the arrangements – which she carefully described as collective efforts – were both settings and enhancements of songs. Sutton’s voice was front and center, of course, with the musical framing adding all sorts of intriguing touches: unexpected shifts of rhythm as subtle as the insertion of an off-meter measure in a rhythmic flow; lush reharmonizations; and the stirring interaction of vocal lines with piano, bass and drum soloing.
As I said above, a musical adventure. And one that is equally present on all of the Tierney Sutton Band recordings. American Road’s unusual combination of folk and pop standards in an Americana package, enhanced by the TSB’s unique way with a song, is the latest in the group’s three consecutive Grammy-nominated efforts. If you weren’t fortunate enough to hear her at Catalina’s, don’t miss the recording.
Also, while we’re talking about Catalina’s, be sure to mark your calendar for Monday, Oct. 17th. It’s hard to believe it’s happened so quickly, but the world famous jazz venue will be celebrating its 25th anniversary. No news on the line up yet, but expect it to be a memorable evening. Check back at our Picks of the Week for details.