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Tierney Sutton Trio: Half Moon Bay, California, February 27, 2013

Bill Leikam By
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Tierney Sutton Trio
Douglas Beach House
Half Moon Bay, California
February 23, 2013

On that late afternoon at the Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society, February 27, 2013, Tierney Sutton brought with her pianist and keyboardist Mitchel Forman, and guitarist and bassist Kevin Axt to put on an exhilarating concert for a full house. The afternoon lay warm and clear over the Pacific Ocean as a seemingly endless stream of people climbed the stairs to the second floor of the venue, where the view far out over Monterey Bay could be enjoyed.

Forman has a long history at the keyboard. He is fundamentally classically trained and on occasion, that classical flair came through on certain numbers. He toured and recorded with Gerry Mulligan, playing in both his big band and quartet, and later worked with Stan Getz. In 1980, his solo career began with a piano performance at the Newport Jazz Festival that became Mitchel's first album, "Live at Newport." Axt has performed, recorded, and toured with artists as diverse as Natalie Cole, Hank Jones, Phil Woods, Queen Latifah, and now with The Tierney Sutton Band. Sutton has had a superbly refined career and she uses her voice as an instrument. Often when not singing, she fills with scat or sometimes keeps time by snapping her fingers.

Before a full house, Forman at the piano and Axt on acoustic guitar performed ""Norwegian Wood," a warm-up for the two of them before Sutton entered and took charge of the afternoon and evening. Not until the third piece, "Don't Go to Strangers," that Forman added his heavenly synthesizer that mixed angelic strings with his piano and Axt over on his bass. Sutton's vocals seemed to ride between Forman's synthesized strings his piano.

As the concert flowed onward through the afternoon, so too did the tempo of the tunes. With her smooth, easy voice, Sutton filled with the swinging piano as Axt took the background with his bass, cutting and filling here and there. When Sutton sang, she seemingly buried herself in the music. Her facial expressions and body movements elicited a suggestion that she is consumed by the power of her lyrics and the melody. At other times, she wrapped herself in it, creating just enough space for Axt and Forman to take the lead as features or in solo. When Sutton gave it over to the instruments, she intermittently scatted and snapped her fingers, all of which added to the underlying tone and beauty of the piece.

With the tune "Gorgeous," composed by Mitch Forman, Axt opened the piece on his stand-up bass as Sutton scatted. Several bars later, Forman came in and perfectly framed the piece with his piano by bringing to it a subtle power seldom heard, and then backed off, allowing the others to unfold as the piece developed. It was particularly in this piece that Forman allowed the classical side of his piano background to come to the fore, and it fit perfectly.

Sutton's range and mastery of her voice brought to the afternoon a refreshing, delightful display of beauty, rolling and moving in and out, sometimes powerful and at other times soft and laid back, like the waves on the beach outside the Bach Dancing & Dynamite Society's Douglas Beach House. As the last tune ended, the audience rose almost in unison and thanked the band with hearty, long, and authentic applause. As people left the room, the buzz was all about the band and Sutton's ability to emotionally reach out and touch her audience.

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