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Tierney Sutton Band at the Newman Center

Geoff Anderson By

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Tierney Sutton Band
Newman Center
Denver, Colorado
January 11, 2018

The Tierney Sutton Band has been known for some time as a unit that takes jazz standards and runs them through its magical musical box and something very, very different emerges. Usually, the results are somewhat recognizable, other times the original theme is revamped, subjected to genetic engineering and cross bred with strange genomes until it bears only the vaguest of familial resemblances; third cousins, twice removed, and sometimes, a whole new breed.

Most recently, the band has eschewed genetic modification of the standards and focused its reengineering efforts on something more recent; on average, only two to four decades old. The band's latest album is entitled The Sting Variations (BFM Jazz, 2016). In it, the band explores Gordon Sumner's solo work as well as a few tunes he wrote while with The Police. And the results are pure TSB.

Thursday night's program at the Newman Center on the University of Denver campus focused mainly, but on exclusively, on songs from the most recent album. The arrangements in the concert were fairly true to the versions on TSB's latest album, but generally light years from the music found on Police and Sting albums. The closer of the first set, which is also the lead-off track on the CD, is a good example. "Driven to Tears" was a driving Police rocker. In the hands of the TSB, it starts with the somewhat spacey intro from "So What" from the classic Kind of Blue (Columbia, 1959) album by Miles Davis. As the song morphs into "Driven to Tears," it continues the ethereal quality of the "So What" introduction until suddenly, the drums kick in and the bass joins in the acceleration when, just as suddenly, the driving, rockin' rhythm evaporates and the ethereal mood descends once again. Like leaping from the high dive, the rush of falling through the air is immediately replaced by floating through a different world where all the rules suddenly change. The arranged section in the middle quoting Davis' solo on "So What" extended the feeling of slight disorientation.

Sting plays bass. But not like this. "Walking in Your Footsteps" revolved around an intricate bass line that must have Sting thinking "Why didn't I think of that?!?" This one, on the CD and in concert, is a trio number with bassist Kevin Axt earning a good chunk of his nightly pay with his intricate bass line. Drummer Ray Brinker punctuated the stop-go rhythm. Pianist Christian Jacob laid out on this one. "Fragile/Gentle Rain" was a welding project from shop class. In this one, Sting's "Fragile" is conjoined with Luis Bonfa's "Gentle Rain." If you'd never heard these songs before, there would be no way you would know that this tune actually consisted of two different songs by two different composers. It's not your typical medley with one song followed by the other. This arrangement has the lyrics and melodies weaving in and out of each other, literally in the same lines and phrases. "Every Little Thing He Does Is Magic" is one of those pop songs we've probably heard too many times on the radio. Thursday night, Sutton performed this one as a duet with drummer Brinker, giving the sugar coated pop song a harder edge and increasing the interest level remarkably.

The majority of the songs on The Sting Variations are the brainchildren of Trey Henry whom Sutton described as the fifth member of the Tierney Sutton Band, "kind of like the fifth Beatle." Henry is a bassist and sometimes occupies the bass chair in place of Axt. An exception to the arrangement credits was "Fields of Gold" arranged by Christian Jacob and reflected his delicate and elegant touch that marked his playing throughout the evening.

The band didn't completely ignore those jazz standards. In fact, at least five wove their way into the set list. The opener, "Without a Song," set the tone for the evening. That's one that was covered by folks like Tony Bennett, Bing Crosby and Frank Sinatra and explains how nothing in life is worthwhile or can even be accomplished without a song. Words to live by for the TSB. Another medley matched "Smile," one written by Charlie Chaplin with Henry Mancini's "Two for the Road." This one was a duet with Sutton and Jacob. "It's All Right With Me" by Cole Porter and Bob Dorough's "Devil May Care" were perfectly placed pieces of diversity among the Sting stylings.

Sutton continues to be one of the top female singers on the jazz scene. Her relaxed and confident delivery is a joy and she glides easily through the myriad styles and moods evoked by her band. The rest of the band covered all the bases; each a delightful and thoughtful soloist, expert in comping and tight and fluid in the ensemble sections. The unit has been together for about 25 years now so they can think, act and play as a single consciousness.

After leaving The Police, Sting began to exhibit some jazz proclivities; even consorting with jazzers like Branford Marsalis, Kenny Kirkland and Omar Hakim. However, when a few people tried to tag him with a jazz label, he protested, "Who me?" Nevertheless, his songs provide fertile ground to plant some jazz seeds and the Tierney Sutton Band has proven to be an eager reaper. Many of these songs are still staples on classic rock radio. Only those stations still play the same old original versions that became worn and calloused before the last century expired. This just goes to highlight another great reason to be a jazz fan, we now have new, fresh versions of these rock standards to enjoy.

Set List: Without a Song; Message in a Bottle; Fragile/The Gentle Rain; Walking in Your Footsteps; Smile/Two For the Road; It's All Right With Me; So What/Driven to Tears; Intermission; Set Them Free; Devil May Care; Fields of Gold; Every Little Thing He Does is Magic; Every Breath You Take; Language of Birds; Synchronicity 1.
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