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Leigh Sutherlin: Sandbar

Dan McClenaghan By

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You meet a father and son at a garage sale, checking out some CDs. You get to talking music. The man says his wife is a jazz artist with a debut recording on the way. A CD release show is in the works. You accept an invite, hoping to hear some passable sounds. You show up and grab a chair, and the band—Leigh Sutherlin settling into the piano seat—hits the stage and cranks into "Whitecaps," a crisp up-tempo romp with a tight rhythm and a Monkish feel. You know, five seconds in, that this is going to be a mighty fine listening experience. Then saxophonist Jen Conder steps back and Sutherlin bursts into her solo with elegant and ebullient abandon, and all you can say is: "Whoa!"

Sutherlin received her classical piano training at Indiana University, has spent time as musical director for various stage shows and done stints in top forty bands, but jazz is her first musical love. With Sandbar, an all original set, the pianist/vocalist splashes brightly onto the scene.

The set is a showcase for Sutherlin's versatility, opening with "Give My Heart Away," a foot tapping, pop-ish tune featuring Sutherlin's engaging vocal. Up next is "Plumeria," a jazz workout with a bright, bouncy rhythm—thanks to bassist Jeff "Sly" Simon and drummer Brad Rehn—behind Conder's saxophone, leading into the beautifully uplifting piano trio tune, "Surrender."

The title track, flows with a smooth bossa nova groove, as guitarist Donn Boyd joins the core trio to inject a Brazilian flavor into the set. "Moonlight on the Sea" captures Sutherlin playing solo in a pensive, Bill Evans mode.

On "Tell Me," another vocal track, Sutherlin lays her vulnerability out on her sleeve (alongside her underlying strength) inside a catchy, can't-get-it-out-of-your-head melody that, in a different day, might have found a spot on the radio.

Sandbar closes with the same tune that wrapped up the live set: a rousing "Jubilation," featuring a sextet of gorgeous gospel singers that gets the crowd on its feet and shakes the place, measurable on the Richter scale, earthly and celestial—a fine ending to an inspired debut.

Track Listing: Give My Heart Away; Plumeria; Surrender; Sandbar; Moonlight on the Sea; Tell Me; Better Than Ever; White Caps; Jubilation.

Personnel: Leigh Sutherlin: piano, keyboards, vocals; Jen Conder: alto and tenor saxophone; Donn Boyd: guitar; Jeff "Sly" Simon: bass; Brad Rehn: drums, percussion; Debbie Donnell, Jessica Donnell; Kailin Cianne Griffith, Gloria Simon, Amber Singh, Amy Singh: background vocals (9)

Title: Sandbar | Year Released: 2008 | Record Label: Self Produced


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