2004 is turning out to be Tierney Sutton's year.
The California-based singer, who has been building her reputation and her musical art for more than a decade, resulting in a series of five albums with her band. She played a full month at the Algonquin Hotel's famed Oak Room in New York in late winter. She followed that with a two-week run at the Big Apple's Le Jazz Au Bar in May.
And Tuesday night, July 6, Sutton made her first appearance at the Montreal International Jazz Festival, where she was featured at Club Soda, a space primarily for singers throughout the festival.
Sutton and her band have attained a high level in developing their music - and musical personality - and that music was at its peak here in Montreal.
This is no "chick singer" fronting a band, as some unfamiliar with her work might come to expect. Sutton clearly is a vocal musician within the group.
The band's chemistry had been described to her earlier in the day as four fingers on the same hand. It's an appropriate analogy that Sutton took even further on stage that night. "The audience is the opposable thumb that completes the musical hand," she told her deeply engaged listeners.
Sutton has one of the purest musical voices around and it is always in tune with her band of 11 years: pianist Christian Jacob, bassist Trey Henry and drummer Ray Brinker.
Her two sets featured material from several of her CDs, including her Blue in Green tribute to Bill Evans and her most recent Dancing in the Dark, which is drawn from rather melancholy songs associated with Frank Sinatra, as well as other fare.
There were several clear highlights among these 17 gems. The moody, aforementioned "Blue in Green," a scat-started "I Get a Kick Out of You," and a freshly arranged aching version of the Deitz and Schwartz classic "Haunted Heart" were among them.
Among the true sparklers, "I've Grown Accustomed to His Face" (instead of the traditional "her,") which was the middle section of a suite from My Fair Lady, featured a sensational piano solo from French-born Jacob and creative brush work from Brinker. Rather than put brushes to his snare drum, he had his brushes softly tapping the beat throughout the tune on his ride cymbals. It was the perfect touch.
Henry set the tone for the band's artful version of the otherwise tired tune "Route 66," with a 15-note repeating bass figure/melodic twist that drove the tune and inspired its solos.
Sutton wound down the show with a piano-vocal duo version of the Charlie Chaplin ballad, "Smile" and treated the crowd to a perfect encore: Evans' "We Will Meet Again."