A glance at the listing of tunes on Tierney Sutton's Blue In Green
intrigued me because somehow it consists of some of my favorites: "Autumn Leaves," "Detour Ahead," "Someday My Prince Will Come," "Never Let Me Go," and of course "Waltz For Debby" and "Blue In Green." The common element binding all of the tunes together isn't just their lyricism, even though some of the tunes remained without words for a number of years. Of course, the tunes are consistent because Bill Evans recorded them all.
It turns out that singer Tierney Sutton was inspired to jump head first into jazz singing by Bill Evansas was, coincidentally, Roseanna Vitro, who just recorded her own tribute as well. But the tributes differ in attitude and in their arrangements. Sutton's group performs the songs consistently throughout all of Blue In Green,
as it employs a high degree of subtlety. Christian Jacob, whose previous CD's have proven the extent of his wide-ranging ability, subordinates individual expression for the unified concept behind the album.
All of them previous members of Jack Sheldon's big band, Tierney Sutton's quartet approaches Bill Evans' work through individualistic arrangements that highlight not so much Sutton's voice, hypnotic and unpredictable though it may be, as the appeal of the music. And that brings me back to the song selection once again, which reflects Evans' unique mixture of sadness, regret and delight with direct wordless story-telling.
Well, Sutton elucidates his music through words, but just as she does so, she stretches and snaps and bends and twists phrases that treat the words instrumentally as sonic devices for direct communication instead of as verbal descriptors. Take her work on "Autumn Leaves," for example. After drummer Ray Brinker brushes out a texture and Jacob provides the three-note push, Sutton comes in to end the chorus meditatively in a slight fadeout, and then her guttural undertone sustains the notes in a kind of purr. Perhaps a student of Anita O'Day, Sutton lays a single word over several notes in a dynamic rise and fall of intensity, as O'Day did unfailingly on "Tea For Two."
And yet, as the occasion requires, Sutton eases into an emotionally affecting retelling of a lyrical story, as on "Waltz For Debby." Initially afraid to record the tune because of its overexposure, Sutton changed her mind when former Evans drummer Joe LaBarbera encouraged her to create a medley of "Waltz For Debby" with "Tiffany," a tune that Evans wrote upon the birth of LaBarbera's daughter. It turns out that Tiffany herself wrote the words to her own song. Plus, LaBarbera showed the back-up trio how Evans would have ended the song as they worked on the arrangement for the only tune on which he plays during Blue In Green.
"Blue In Green" itself consists of Sutton positioning her voice against the bass pattern reminiscent of "Cast Your Fate To The Wind." She takes her time to present the words, with all of their loaded meaning: "knowing you have found another love has turned my world to sorrow green with envy for another. ...can't lose these hues of blue in green." The arrangement of "Someday My Prince Will Come" is equally inventive as the deep bass groove and the brushed martial hint on drums seemingly conflict with the deceptive simplicity of the tune. Seamlessly, Sutton and her group glide into a smooth 4/4 meter, the swing more implied by note placement than by overemphasis on rhythm. "Just Squeeze Me," likewise, combines a brushed New Orleans street march beat with a one-four/two-three vamp on bass. Taking chances, Sutton converts what seems to be sultriness to bluesiness through unexpected intervals and chromatic descents, right-on pitch and a dotted-eighth-and-sixteenth "Night Train" allusion.
As the head of jazz vocal studies at the University of Southern California, Tierney Sutton is gaining the nationwide recognition she deserves as a singer who, while seemingly conventional, chooses the road, and the melodic line, less taken. As does the entire superb quartet.