Jazz CD Reviews

Tierney Sutton – After Blue – BFM Jazz

A remarkable tribute to a famed singer/songwriter.

Published on December 9, 2013

Tierney Sutton – After Blue – BFM Jazz

Tierney Sutton – After Blue – BFM Jazz 302062419-2, 58:16 [9/24/13] *****:

(Tierney Sutton – vocals, co-producer; Hubert Laws – flute (tracks 5, 9); Peter Erskine – drums (tracks 5, 9); Ralph Humphrey – drums (track 6); Larry Goldings – piano, Hammond B-3 organ (tracks 3, 5, 7, 9, 12); Serge Merlaud – guitar (tracks 4, 10); Kevin Axt – bass guitar (track 4); Al Jarreau – vocals (track 9); Turtle Island Quartet: David Balakrishnan – violin, Mateusz Smoczynski – violin, Benjamin Von Gutzeit – viola, Mark Summer – cello (tracks 1, 8))

Hearing Los Angeles-based singer Tierney Sutton’s tribute to singer/songwriter Joni Mitchell, the nearly hour-long After Blue, it is hard to imagine Sutton did not grow up wrapped up in Mitchell’s song craft. But the truth is Sutton did not get to know Mitchell’s work until she studied Mitchell’s orchestrated homage to the Great American Songbook, Both Sides Now (2000), which consists predominantly of standards from the 1930s and 1940s. Evidently it was a revelation. In her After Blue liner notes, Sutton ranks Both Sides Now alongside Frank Sinatra’s jazz-oriented In the Wee Small Hours (1955) and Billie Holliday’s Lade in Satin (1958). Honestly, Mitchell’s album does lie somewhere between the two: not classic, but straightforwardly rewarding. After discovering Both Sides Now, Sutton spent time with Mitchell’s back catalog, including For the Roses (1972), Court and Spark (1974), Hejira (1976), Mingus (1979), and most tellingly, Blue (1971). The bedrock for After Blue came via a September, 2012 concert in Santa Barbara, when Tierney and the Turtle Island Quartet (TIQ) did four Mitchell songs, including “All I Want” and “Little Green” (although “All I Want” has different backing on this outing). In spring, 2013 Sutton stepped into the studio, but without two of her regular bandmates (pianist Christian Jacob and drummer Ray Brinker had other commitments), so instead Sutton turned to other collaborators, including drummer Peter Erskine (who was involved with both the Mingus and Both Sides Now records). Erskine recommended keyboardist Larry Goldings (his credits comprise Jim Hall, John Scofield, Elton John, and many more). Other guests include Al Jarreau, the aforementioned Turtle Island Quartet, Hubert Laws and others.

Sutton’s readings are ear-opening (she explains her interpretative approach during an online, ten-minute promotional video). Throughout, her subtle projection and delicate vocal power mirror Mitchell’s phrasing and tone, and she adopts Mitchell’s mostly sparse jazz leanings by using voice improvisation and rhythmic accent, as well as Mitchell’s sensitive style of arrangement. The two TIQ tunes are a fine example. The two violins, viola and cello provide light syncopation and complementary stimulus, while Sutton dips, soars and flows through Mitchell’s dedicatory tune. “Little Green” (also from Blue) has a similar pulse, with Sutton’s vocals vividly capturing Mitchell’s azure tale of a mother giving up her child. The most notable highlights are the swinging jazz numbers. “The Dry Cleaner from Des Moines,” taken from Mitchell’s 1979 project with Charles Mingus, capers with energy, vitalized by Golding’s soulful B-3 organ, Erskine’s lithe percussion and Laws buoyant flute. Sutton’s vocals reinforce the keen ascent and decline of winners and losers amid the Las Vegas glitter and all-night neon. Sutton dexterously renovates “Big Yellow Taxi” as a minimal, effective vocals/drums cut, where Sutton’s scat vocalizations are charmingly accentuated by Ralph Humphrey’s supple snares and brushes. The overall winner, though, is “Be Cool,” from Mitchell’s 1982 release, Wild Things Run Fast. Sutton escalates Mitchell’s jazz intonation with assistance from Golding’s organ, Laws flute, and in particular, Jarreau’s typically vibrant singing and vocal effects. In keeping with the party-like atmosphere, Sutton gives shout-outs to Goldings and Jarreau during this delight.

Tierney fans who enjoy her Great American Songbook translations will probably gravitate to “Don’t Go to Strangers” and “Answer Me, My Love,” both also found on Mitchell’s Both Sides Now. On the late-evening ballad, “Don’t Go to Strangers” (also recorded by Etta James, Nancy Wilson and Sarah Vaughan), Sutton’s voice is underscored by Serge Merlaud’s tender acoustic guitar and Kevin Axt’s trim bass guitar cadence (he’s the only Sutton band member present). The relationship drama “Answer Me, My Love” has a parallel arrangement: the beautiful rendition features just Sutton and Merlaud, and is a striking version of a track also done by Nat King Cole, Marcus Roberts and Petula Clark. Mitchell and Sutton enthusiasts get the best of both worlds on the memorable, album-closing medley of E.Y. “Yip” Harburg and Vernon Duke’s timeless “April in Paris” and “Free Man in Paris,” Mitchell’s melancholy narrative supposedly about record producer and label head David Geffen. Golding’s acoustic piano and Sutton’s lovely vocals meld into a wonderful and outstanding duet. Although the dozen tracks were taped at three studios with three different engineers, the inclusive result is pleasing, and sounds great on high-end audiophile equipment: Sutton’s voice, the acoustic piano, the flute and everything else has detailed nuance and bright presence.

TrackList: Blue; All I Want; Court and Spark; Don’t Go to Strangers; The Dry Cleaner from Des Moines; Big Yellow Taxi; Woodstock; Little Green; Be Cool; Answer Me, My Love; Both Sides Now; April in Paris/Free Man in Paris.

—Doug Simpson

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