Tierney Sutton Band: Desire
Tierney Sutton Band
Singer Tierney Sutton's Desire is the kind of provocative musical work that could change the way a listener hears music. It is an album that is meant to spiritually provoke. It arrests, alarms, it even terrifies.
By the end of "It's Only A Paper Moon," the first track, it is quite plain this isn't the Tin Pan Alley of yesteryear. The much-recorded Harold Arlen/Billy Rose/Yip Harburg tune is transformed into transcendental reverie as Sutton's nightingale-clear voice floats over an arrangement that is as sensitive to silence as it is to sound. Drummer Ray Brinker's edgily insistent brushwork and bassist Trey Henry's repeating portamento phrase establish a quiet, ominous urgency as Sutton recites a passage from the Book of Hidden Words of Baha'u'llah. As pianist Christian Jacob's minor opening chords modulate hopefully to a major, Sutton begins singing and manages to turn a romantic lyric into powerful religious allegory, an ethereal dialog with God:
It's a Barnum and Bailey world / Just as phoney as it can be / But it wouldn't be make-believe / If you believed in me.
In the liner notes, Sutton says of her band's collaborative efforts that "After fifteen years and seven CDs together, we're interested in seeking the core, the essence of what moves us as musicians and as people." So listeners who are unfamiliar with Sutton's work and expecting a pretty blonde chanteuse's musings on love and loving, need to think again: of a through-the-looking-glass philosophic inquiry in the tradition of Hindu, Buddhist and Judeo-Christian mysticism.
Heavy? You bet. Intimidating? A little. Less than engaging? Not one bit. For a culture as obsessed with material gratification and celebrity as this one is, nothing could be more relevant.
A sardonic reading of "My Heart Belongs To Daddy" cuts right to the quick in an examination of the consequences of ethical compromise and dishonesty, so that after only two tracks, a metaphysical freight train with a head of steam is roaring through the middle of the listener's world. All this is accomplished through the magic of skilled musicianship and masterful arrangingthe two songs' lyrics are exactly as originally written for a pair of Depression-era Broadway musicals, The Great Magoo (1932) and Leave It to Me! (1938).
Jacob's opening notes for the Dave Frishberg/Blossom Dearie tune that originally inspired this project, "Long Daddy Green," establish an evil, viscerally menacing tone that conjures an unseen psychological terror even before Sutton enters with Frishberg's haunting lyrics:
Long Daddy Green is an old, old friend / He hangs around the rainbow's end / Dealing out dreams from a potful of fortune and fame / Fanning the flame / Hear him calling your name.
The roller-coaster of emotional highs and lows can be unnerving, but this is satisfying, richly-textured work. All involved are journeyman jazzers who can tilt the listener's head with technique. But the Tierney Sutton Band are not trying to flash you with what they can do. Rather, this is music for grown-ups, and thoughtful ones at that. The tunes are unflinching looks at the price paid for the mindless grabbing and attaining that can pass for everyday life. In the hands of these allegorists, standards like "Fever" and "Whatever Lola Wants" are turned inside out, compositionally and intellectually.
Singer/songwriter Bob Dylan said that on hearing guitarist Jimi Hendrix's version of "All Along The Watchtower," he was so struck by it that he adopted Hendrix's arrangement for his own performances of the song. That is the overwhelming impact these tunes could have, in time. Their intensity is not always easy or comforting, but it's difficult to imagine that one could ever listen to these standards and hear them the same way again.
Tracks and Personnel
Tracks: It's Only A Paper Moon; My Heart Belongs To Daddy; Long Daddy Green; Fever; It's All Right With Me; Then I'll Be Tired Of You; Cry Me A River; Love Me Or Leave Me; Heart's Desire; Whatever Lola Wants; Skylark.
Personnel: Tierney Sutton: vocals; Christian Jacob: piano; Trey Henry: bass; Kevin Axt: bass; Ray Brinker: drums.