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Sounding Sinatra: Tierney Sutton Performs at the Kennedy Center

Franz A. Matzner By

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Sharp, subtle, and carefully balanced, Sutton's jazz is jazz like a dirty martini.
As good as a recording may be, there is just no substitute for a live performance. More often than not, an album can obscure hidden talents, and even the best releases, no matter how powerful, lack the vitality and immediacy of music in the flesh. Tierney Sutton's recent performance at the Kennedy Center's Jazz Club proved no exception to this axiom, revealing facets of Sutton's artistry concealed by the smooth production of her latest (critically-acclaimed) recording.

Performing in the elegantly simple space of the KC Jazz Club, Sutton managed to capture her audience before she even began singing, as she loosened up the room with her sharp wit and opened the door for an evening of intimate music with a series of pleasantly self-effacing and personally revealing anecdotes. Sutton then began the set, and within moments of her voice filling the coolly lit space, she held the audience in the palm of her hand.

Working off of her latest release, the Frank Sinatra tribute Dancing in the Dark , Sutton and her long time band mates, Christian Jacob (piano), Trey Henry (bass), and Ray Brinker (drums), proceeded to treat the audience to a rapid fire series of alternately up-tempo, almost glibly entertaining tunes, together with dramatically melancholic ballads.

Opening with a heavily swung "Devil May Care", Sutton next transitioned into a movingly rendered version of Sinatra's "Without A Song". Listening to the almost schizophrenic manner in which Sutton first bent her voice into a mildly parodic caricature of '40s vocal styling, and then into an operatically expressive conduit became not only stunning, but also quite gratifying.

With these two pieces, Sutton quickly established the mood of the evening, letting her voice and poise mesh with the paired down sophistication of the room to guide the audience into a state of nostalgia for the days of jazz clubs past. Though cleverly retro in her overall delivery, Sutton managed to accomplish something much more than simple reminiscence. By performing up-tempo pieces like "Tease Me" and "I Get a Kick Out of You" with an appropriate wink and a smile, Sutton slips the deeper sentiments of ballads like "I Could Have Told You" and "All The Way" past the gaps in our collective cynicism. Other highlights of the evening included a daunting drum-vocal duet rendition of "The Surrey with the Fringe On Top", on which both Sutton and Brinker not only kept up a furious tempo, but also traded impressive improvised solos; an achingly somber take of "All the Way"; and a gorgeously arranged version of "What'll I do", on which bassist Henry blended hauntingly expressionistic accompaniments with Sutton's own gossamer reading.

Reforming Sinatra in this way underscores the potency of the original compositions and accents Sinatra's remarkable talents, while most importantly showcasing Sutton's own unique capacity to use jazz antiques as a platform for her highly personal exploration.

Sharp, subtle, and carefully balanced, Sutton's jazz is jazz like a dirty martini.

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