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Tierney Sutton Band at Dazzle

Geoff Anderson By

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Tierney Sutton Band
Dazzle
Denver
May 6, 2012

Most attractive female singers with long blonde hair simply market themselves under their own name. Not so Tierney Sutton. She's not a solo act. She's part of the Tierney Sutton Band. Sure, she's the focal point onstage (a long blonde mane will do that), but the band is a true collaboration, having been together for about 20 years. Besides performing together, the band collectively creates its own arrangements of jazz standards. Sunday night at Dazzle, Sutton estimated that the group has about 150 to 170 songs in its book that have been arranged together. As a result, no two shows by the Tierney Sutton Band are the same.

Sutton, herself, is in the upper tier of female jazz vocalists; but it's her band and her approach to the songs she sings that set her apart from the pack. Certainly each band member is a virtuoso. Pianist Christian Jacob switched from tasteful accompaniment to fiery solo in an instant. The rhythm section of bassist Kevin Axt and drummer Ray Brinker solidly swung in the background, but each player also stepped up for dynamic solos. However, no matter how technically accomplished the players might be, there is simply no substitute for playing together for decades, an experience evident throughout the set. The drum fills, the bass filigrees and the piano flourishes were musical accoutrements simply not heard with a pickup band.

Sutton explained that the highly creative arrangements are all group efforts, the extensive remodeling of jazz standards a hallmark of the band. Familiar songs turn into new adventures and experiences; "Wayfaring Stranger," from the band's latest album, American Road (BFM, 2011), began life as a 19th Century folk song and was later used as a theme song by Burl Ives in the 1940s. Not exactly your typical raw material for a jazz tune; in the hands of this band, however, the old folk song found new life as a haunting, trance-inducing ballad. Burl Ives never sounded like this.

Obviously interested in contrast and irony, the band played "It Ain't Necessarily So" and "Amazing Grace" back-to-back. Sutton introduced this pair of tunes as two different views of spirituality: one, cynical; the other, reverent. Upon finishing "Amaziong Grace," Sutton explained that the whole band has been struggling to decide which view makes the most sense. She didn't have an answer.

Later in the set, the band played its percussive arrangement of "On Broadway," a tune for which the band received a 2011 Grammy nomination for Best Arrangement Accompanying a Vocal. American Road also picked up a Grammy nomination for Best Jazz Vocal Album.

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