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Tierney Sutton Band in Florida, 3/13/13

Singer and her band reveal new facets in familiar material—always an artful surprise

Tierney Sutton Band, Naples, Florida, 3/13
Tierney Sutton and Christian Jacob
Tierney Sutton and Christian Jacob, Naples, Florida, 3/13 (photo: Ken Franckling)
Tierney Sutton, Naples, Florida, 3/13

Singer Tierney Sutton opened a two-week East Coast mini-tour at Daniels Pavilion in Naples, Fla., with a concert in which she took to heart the sage advice of late mentor Ray Brown. The bassist once told her: “Give the people something they know.”

After two stunning albums early in her career that focused on either obscure tunes she loved, or jazz standards that weren’t readily identifiable to the masses, she followed his advice by mixing things up. “And then I had a career,” she said. The unspoken part of the equation is something Sutton excels at: If you’re going to do familiar material, do it differently than anyone else. That’s where you stand out as a singer.

In Naples, Sutton drew primarily from two recordings, her 2002 Dancing in the Dark, inspired by music associated with Frank Sinatra, and her newest, 2011’s American Road, as well as an Irving Berlin trilogy.

The band on this tour includes pianist Christian Jacob, bassist Kevin Axt and drummer Ralph Humphrey, the latter subbing for band veteran Ray Brinker, who was home in Los Angeles with his pregnant wife.

Sutton’s band has been a musical family for more than 20 years, with finely honed collaborative arrangements and an intuitive spirit that enables them to shift gears in an instant when soloists offer fresh ideas.

The Berlin trilogy enabled Sutton to showcase Humphrey, the regular drummer on TV’s Dancing With the Stars. She said they’d perform “with a Dancing With the Stars sensibility,” and then dove into “Let’s Face the Music and Dance,” “Dancing Cheek to Cheek” and a soaring version of “Blue Skies.”

Sutton is a master of stretching notes, repeating words for emphasis, scatting to emphasize a melody. She also uses her hands to great effect to add a visual component that underscores the lyric she is singing. The solo space afforded all players and their hip musicality is always a marvel to watch and to hear.

The set included three tunes from Porgy & Bess off American Roads: “It Ain’t Necessarily So,” “Summertime” and “My Man’s Gone Now.” Sutton said they were included “because there ain’t nothing more American than Porgy & Bess.” She gave “Summertime” a beautifully pensive and plaintive update before Axt’s extended bass solo dominated “My Man’s Gone Now,” accentuated by Sutton’s vocal wail at the end.

“All the Way” illuminated the way the players revel in listening to and reacting to each other’s solos. Jacob’s crystalline touch was showcased on a voice-and-piano version of Yip Harburg and Harold Arlen’s “Last Night When We Were Young.” Sutton was joined by bass and drums only on a stunning version of a lesser-known Harburg-Arlen gem, “The Eagle and Me.”

The evening ended with a bold, even aggressive, romp through “On Broadway.” It’s a tune for which all five regular band mates-Sutton, Jacob, Brinker, Axt and fellow bassist Trey Henry-were nominated for a 2012 Grammy in the Best Arrangement Accompanying a Vocalist category.

The current tour includes the band’s March 19-23 residency at Birdland in New York City.

Originally Published