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Jacqui Sutton: Notes From the Frontier

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Her career has taken her from Madison to San Francisco to Portland to Manhattan, but it wasn’t until Jacqui Sutton arrived in Texas that she found just the right setting for the boldly unpredictable meld she calls “frontier jazz.” The Houston-based Sutton has been singing her entire adult life but didn’t cut her first album until two years ago, at age 50, paying homage to wildly disparate trailblazers Billie Holiday and Dolly Parton.

Widening her celebration of American musical spirit, and again teaming with the Texas musicians she’s dubbed the Frontier Jazz Orchestra, Sutton opens with a “Summertime” that serves as splendid introduction to the steel of her pipes and the majesty of a voice that marries the earthiness of Cassandra Wilson to the warmth of Dianne Reeves. Jazz, bluegrass and honkytonk slip and slide together in Sutton’s crafty blend of “Hummingbird” and Dave Brubeck’s “Blue Rondo à la Turk,” while “Nature Boy” is reinvented as a fiery tango sung in English and Spanish. She unearths a pair of markedly different patriotic pieces from classical composer Lee Hoiby-the uplifting “Lady of the Harbor” and, revitalized as a bolero, the anthemic “Where the Music Comes From”-and dusts the twangy “Blue Mountain” with gentle jazz harmonies.

But Sutton also appreciates when dramatic re-imaginings are neither appropriate nor required: She keeps the tender lullaby “Jenny Rebecca” true to its delicate folk roots, and exercises her considerable acting skills across the vintage pop-culture collage of “Better Than Anything.”

Originally Published