CD REVIEW:
TIERNEY SUTTON: "BLUE IN GREEN"

Telarc Records CD-83522


by Jan Stevens, webmaster

There are so many treats in this album, it’s hard to know where to start. Vocalist Tierney Sutton has navigated some challenging material here, all of it associated with or composed by Bill Evans, and though it’s a bona fide vocal success, it is as much a small-group arranging triumph as anything else. The ensemble on "Blue in Green" is the emphasis, and the interaction between Tierney and her trio works beautifully. Ms. Sutton doesn’t just lay down the melody and then disappear for solos; she often weaves in and out, often taking a half-chorus here and there, inventing melodies herself, while always seeming cognizant of the group sound. She possesses a rich, sensual alto sweetness, yet is never coy or cute. Her genuine musicianship is evident throughout. As she explains to writer Bob Blumenthal in the liner notes: “Bill Evans was huge in my development. The thing that Bill gave me was the idea that jazz didn’t have to be loud; it could be swinging, sensual an beautiful without overblown drama. He let me know that there a place for me in jazz, that I could use my voice in this manner. He had introduced something new and fresh -- that bittersweet, harmonic sense of his, never too sweet, with that undercurrent of tragedy.”

These tunes, even some so well-worn like Fat’s Waller’s “Just Squeeze Me” and “Old Devil Moon” display a creativity and empathy of execution between artist and accompaniment that make them seem fresh and void of cliche. The charts are unique: “Someday My Prince Will Come” comes in with an understated Latin groove, before Sutton frees it into a slow-swinging casual read.

The first section of “Autumn Leaves” is harmonically and rhythmically altered in way you may not have heard anywhere before, yet remains anchored by the contours of the melodic line, before it breaks into a brisk light swing. It’s a very involving arrangement, and wreaks with intelligent musicality. I found myself playing it again and again.

“Just You Just Me” --- a song more closely associated with Nat Cole --- is just vocal and bass, as is the lovely “Sometime Ago” -- and Ms. Sutton easily scats through a chorus or two, and it’s just a fun romp that works beautifully. I especially loved hearing “Very Early” introduced very slow with just piano -- we hear clearly the structure, and that beautiful lilting Evans melody. Christian Jacob then takes the solo in four, instead of the original 3/4 time, and we’re treated to a rich tapestry of colors and a stellar understanding of the complex chord movement of one of Bill’s compositions.

“Turn Out The Stars” -- a challenging task indeed to sing, due to its extreme changes of key centers, and its wide leaps in melody -- gets a similar reading. Doing it just once through was a brilliant choice -- as a composition it is so full of its own inherent inventiveness and its stands alone. And Ms. Sutton makes it all sounds so easy, which it’s not. She gets deep enough inside it, but doesn’t resort to any overwrought interpretation.

Another clever idea was the brief medley version of Bill’s “Waltz For Debby” which leads right into “Tiffany” and back again. The song’s subject, one Tiffany LaBarbera, wrote a lyric herself to Bill’s melody, and her dad (The Evans trio’s drummer 1978-1980) gets to play on it. A very nice touch, and another intelligent performance.

Pianist Christian Jacob is amazingly sensitive, richly chording and shading harmonically with a beautiful touch and an intuitive sense of harmonic substitution space and subtlety (his playing on “Very Early” and “Detour Ahead” is exemplary) and can also swing with great abandon and clarity. His lines are clean, lyrical and just superb; they pay homage to the master in some of their velvety essence, yet are without obvious Evanisms. This is to his great credit, what with all these tunes recorded many times by Bill Evans. Yet the spirit of Bill is all over the place in this record. He swings beautifully, too, never overplaying.

Evans “We Will Meet Again” is reverently and poignantly -- and what a profound lyric! Piano and bass weave a nice counterpoint through the opening of the melancholy melody (which Bill wrote for his brother Harry, after the latter’s passing). Teirney may have made the definitive vocal version of this lovely piece. Surely any future performance will have to be compared to this one. It’s sincere and heartfelt and bears repeated listenings. The uplifting ending adds a genuine moment of hopefulness, and a fitting one to this otherwise sad and wistful tune.

The title tune, now even acknowledged by the Miles Davis Estate (on their website) to be written by Evans, may well be the high point of the album. It opens with a bass line (reminiscent of Vince Guaraldi’s “Cast Your Fate to The Wind”) and the intervals remain as a pedal point through much of the head. It casts a mesmerizing and hypnotic musical tension and nuance, as Tierney’s gorgeous vocal tone provides the color. A brief, understated piano piano interlude follows, before the pedal point returns, and the sustaining melody takes us out. This is one of the most outstanding arrangements for a vocal performance I’ve heard in a long time.

“You and the Night and The Music” was another surprise. A very textured, lovely and exotic opening starts with a gorgeous bass figure, with harmonics, before Tierney states it again with no piano behind her for the first eight bars. It then swings with great understatement and another clever piano solo. It returns to the sublime exotica for the last phrases, leading straight into “Detour Ahead” without a break.

One of the very few reservations I had about the album was the choice of “Old Devil Moon” for inclusion and as the CDs closer. Bill never recorded it to my knowledge, and as bubbly as it is in its brisk Latin feel, I’m not sure its fits here, considering the absolute gems herein. Yet it works on its own terms.

Trey Brinker on bass and Ray Brinker on drums deserve mention as well. They are tight together and provide great support, and their presence is always felt. They worked with Mr. Jacobs a while, (in Jack Sheldon’s big band out in California) and it shows. They light up the proceedings in unexpected ways and the interplay is simply refreshing and never obtrusive. Their musical comraderie is a treat all by itself

Tierney Sutton has made an outstanding record here of material that, due to its musical intricacies and its any choices of presentation could have easily fallen flat. That it shines in such graceful and clever ways and with such moving lyricism, and this trio’s innate musicality behind her sweet voice is a true tribute to all that Bill Evans’ music exemplified. VERY highly reommended!


Jan Stevens 2002
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