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Tierney Sutton is a young jazz singer with a warm, graceful voice, an unpretentious delivery and a great feel for ballads. On Unsung Heroes, Sutton’s fluid style makes some very difficult pieces sound simple and beautiful.
Though Sutton didn’t come to jazz until she was 20, she’s a natural talent who released a widely praised debut album in 1998. Now Sutton heads up the jazz vocal department at USC. Her second release Unsung Heroes finds her interpreting various mainstream jazz compositions originally intended as instrumentals. The title refers to the musicians who either composed these pieces or adapted them for a jazz rendering.
A soprano with a pliant voice, Sutton is well equipped to tackle such tricky material. Sutton’s singing is vibrant and inviting, and manifests a horn-like quality during her scat passages. Like the best jazz singers, Sutton never overwhelms a song, but always seems to guide it to the right place. Credit also goes to the superb band led by talented pianist Christian Jacob.
Whether vamping through a swing tune, scatting on a bop number, or gently caressing a ballad, Sutton brings out the best in these 10 songs. The ballads here are particularly effective, most notably the opening track "Remember Me" and Jimmy Rowles’ "A Timeless Place (The Peacocks)." The former is a wistful reading of Joe Henderson’s "Recordame," while the latter is a complex, melancholic piece that would likely intimidate even the most experienced jazz vocalist. The fact that Sutton pulls it off so beautifully is evidence of her great talent. Equally challenging is Wayne Shorter’s "All for One (Speak No Evil)" with lyrics by Vanessa Rubin. Sutton negotiates this song’s intricate turns with an uplifting performance augmented by some tasty bop-oriented piano by Jacob.
Sumptuous slow numbers "Early Autumn" and "Spring is Here" are offset by up-tempo pieces "Bernie’s Tune" and "Indiana/Donna Lee." "Bernie’s Tune" features a bopping exchange between Sutton and flugelhorn player Buddy Childers (ex of Stan Kenton’s band), a longtime collaborator in LA's jazz clubs.
Unsung Heroes showcases a classy singer, some tasteful songs, and various top-flight players. It’s a superb, well-rounded jazz vocal release.