By Don Heckman
One of the great pleasures of writing about music is the opportunity to experience the progress that can take place, over months and years, in the work of gifted artists. Hearing the Tierney Sutton Band at Catalina Bar & Grill Friday night was a good example.
It had been less than a year since I’d last heard Tierney and the guys in the same venue. And that performance was admirable in every way.
This time out, some of the material from that show was repeated, notably selections from the TSB’s latest recording, American Road. And there was more – some random choices from the Great American Songbook, medleys of songs from My Fair Lady and Porgy and Bess. All of it illustrating the creative evolution of this remarkable musical collective.
Regardless of what Tierney sang, it was offered with an almost literary layering of emotional story telling. The impact began early in nearly every song. Often, starting with the opening Softly, As In A Morning Sunrise, her first expression was a wordless improvised passage. Some of them recalled the musical intimacy of the Bach Sonatas for Solo Violin. Others simmered with slipping and sliding jazz accents.
When Tierney moved into the interior of a song, the carefully crafted group arrangements that are an essential characteristic of the TSB took over. Some of the arrangement elements depicted stylistic aspects of the band’s unique musical identity: shifting from a groove tempo, often in 6/4, to a high speed, autobahn rhythm in 4; using dramatic percussion explosions from drummer Ray Brinker to create emotional transitions; dazzling improvisational interplay between Tierney’s wordless scatting and the fleet-fingered soloing of pianist Christian Jacob.
Tierney celebrated the presence of Alan and Marilyn Bergman in the audience with an exquisite version of “What Are You Doing the Rest of Your Life?” completely capturing the song’s light-hearted poignancy. Another standard, “I Want To Be Happy,” showcased more of the TSB’s stunning blend of precise, but hard-swinging rhythm and soaring improvisational spontaneity.
Add to that a pair of tunes from the band’s Desire album juxtaposing the sweet sentimentality of “Then I’ll Be Tired of You” with the darker tendencies of “Cry Me A River,” linked by a surging bass interlude from Kevin Axt. And top it off with Tierney’s rousing romp through “The Lady Is A Tramp.”
As I suggested above, hearing the continually growing artistry of an already masterful jazz ensemble such as the Tierney Sutton Band is one of the great satisfactions in my line of work. And this performance offered all that and a lot more.
The Tierney Sutton Band performs tonight (Sunday) in the final performance of their three night run at Catalina Bar & Grill (323) 466-2210. Don’t miss it.