FEEDBACK ONLINE - ISSUE 29
Tierney Sutton Band:
On The Other Side;(Telarc
SACD-63650). Tierney Sutton, vocals; Christian Jacob, piano; Kevin
Axt, bass; Trey Henry, bass; Ray Brinker, drums; special guest
artist, Jack Sheldon, trumpet, vocal. [60:04]
The gang at Telarc has been spending time and money identifying, recruiting, and developing jazz musicians for the past five or ten years. Among them are Cheryl Bentyne and Janis Siegel, John Pizzarelli, and Tierney Sutton. Bentyne and Siegel have emerged as pretty talented soloists after doing their graduate studies at the Manhattan Transfer conservatory of music. Pizzarelli learned guitar from his father, Bucky, and learned to sing by being the lead act for Frank Sinatra during a couple of Frank's final American tours. Their pedigrees are pretty apparent in their singing. Sutton never quite understudied in that manner and she has evolved her own pretty unique style, and her own philosophy. These performers are among the best of their generation, the recipients of the torch that signifies some sort of continuity.
In the spare album notes Sutton writes: "Mystics tell us it's the chase [for happiness] that causes our problems. We chase happiness but often find the disillusionment and heartache of happiness-lost, or happiness-missed... Our search for happiness is an odd business. This music is about that search; the longing, the mania, the heartache, and perhaps even the joy of finding something better than the illusion we were chasing." We might think of this album as a tractatus philosophicus, or a philosophical treatise on happiness and unhappiness. For anyone old enough to go out and buy On The Other Side, I think this album offers valuable insight into love and loving, unrequited love and problematical love, opportunities for love that just pass us by, and love once attained that is soon lost. I'm not sure who said it first, but "Love Can Really Hang You Up The Most."
The backup musicians, mostly performing as a piano trio, do an excellent job of handling the various material. Tierney Sutton sings the songs with appeal, as she disarmingly goes through the musical equivalent of the emotions described in the songs' lyrics. She seems more comfortable in this role as I've heard her, a musical Miss Lonely Hearts, offering hip and urbane consolation and tips for beginners (and some veterans) on how to ride out these emotional upsets. At the very least, an hour's study of joysprings and heartaches are in this recording.
The first song, "Get Happy," begins with a dirge and sustains it to the end. The lyrics are about how to "forget your troubles" and get happy. That sounds pretty optimistic, but the lugubrious key and register of the dirge reminds me of funereal music going all the way back to Chopin's Funeral March. The minor key introductory vamp reminds me of Gershwin's piano Prelude #2, and the increasing cymbal's crash calls to mind "My Man's Gone Now" from his Porgy and Bess as performed by Shirley Horn. This music blends sadness, abandonment and anxiety in equal measures.
The next tune, "Happy Days Are Here Again," is not taken as a tune for a presidential election, but rather as a cute, hip trio with the piano, drums, and bass working in an unexpected syncopated vamp, repeating over and again punctuation marking boom-booms on the pedal drum. Sexy? Boom-Boom. Suggestive? Boom-Boom. The return of the loved one? BOOM-BOOM. Tierney works the lyric well, never getting overly involved, as though she knows the lyric is a bit hokey. So her boyfriend's back, and he's gonna save her reputation. Maybe the serious trouble is just around the corner. She does strike a balance of involvement/detachment that reflects a cautious optimism.
Next up, "You Are My Sunshine," is another dirge set to a song made popular by Louisiana's "Singing Governor" Jimmy Davis back during WWII. I remember often hearing this song on the radio when I was a little tyke, and being moved to tears. I was relentlessly teased by my family for my lapse in decorum for decades. This version can sneak up on you. It is played for drama; minor key, dissonance, slow tempo. Another sadly desperate song of, "Don't Leave Me Alone." That's an archaic fear, and in hunter-gatherer times it meant sure death. Maybe all what we call "love songs" are really playing on that? Seems so when you write them out as I'm doing.
"Glad to Be Unhappy" is a modulated version of the lost-love theme. This is a worldly-wise Tierney set off by the tasty chops of Jack Sheldon's trumpet. She sings like a woman who's been around the love-lost track a few times. Better to feel alive, to feel the pain of unrequited love, even though the lyric clearly states, "Unrequited love's a bore," than to feel nothing. No pain, no gain. Halitosis is better than no breath at all. And all other clichés that apply.
"Sometimes I'm Happy" is a carefree excursion into the ups and downs of love. Backed up by a lot of byplay between the two basses, light brush work, and absent piano, Tierney puts down some slick scat singing on this mid-tempo jazz classic that has been worked and reworked by lots of great players. "Make it new," said Ezra Pound, and indeed she does. And she sings it as one used to co-dependency relationships, where one partner's mood is affected by the other partner's mood.
"Happy Talk" is a duet between Tierney and Christian Jacob on piano. Very up-tempo, very major key, this one just bounces along like a Bud Powell solo with Jacobs showing a very wide array of chops. Tierney likes to play with her rubato, laying behind the beat, then rushing to keep up. "HowyougonnaHowyougonnaHowyougonnahaveadreamcometrue." Psychologists say you'll recognize where the spaces are with no trouble. Excellent tune. Well done.
And back we go into the land of "Haunted Heart," where Tierney is suddenly visited by the ghost of the beloved, a loving Dybbuk. I don't think he's really dead, maybe stationed overseas. But it feels something like it. I think she is really singing about how vulnerable she is. I think a lot of lovers, male and female, feel the almost palpable presence of the departed one, sometimes. Like Tom Hanks talking to his wife's ghost in Sleepless in Seattle. He knows she's really not there. But it feels a lot like she is. And this feeling doesn't depend on literal death. Ever have a deeply personal dream involving someone special, and you wake up and for a moment you can't quite believe it was a dream?
Enter Jack Sheldon to sing in duet with Tierney "I Want to Be Happy." This is done with some considerable humor. Of course you might take the lyric as a double entendre on giving pleasure in the act of love. If you do, then the lyric is a celebration of co-dependency in lovemaking. So as not to be mistaken, there is lots of funny schtick at the end of this one, where the intent becomes clear. Grown up stuff. If you're hearing it for the first time it is "sophisticated," if for the tenth time it's "naughty." Like Fats Waller singing his "Honeysuckle Rose."
"Make Someone Happy" looks like a paraphrase of "It's better to give than receive." There are lots of songs based on this premise: Being generous with your love is a good investment, because when you give your love you receive it back with interest. I find this one a little sappy, and the vanilla arrangement is not as interesting as the others.
"Great Day!" is back on the upbeat trail. Jacobs takes a great piano solo, and the drummer is having a good time. Tierney gets into her up-tempo mode and lifts the mood of the piece. Not great, but not without some appeal.
The second "Happy Days Are Here Again." This time, the tempo is slow but there is some very interesting drum and cymbal work. Jacob gets into some pianistic changes with the chords of the last phrase, and the bass cooperates with everyone else, lending some fine bottom note selection that sets the fundamental for the seeming random chords going on the piano. I'm sure this was worked out in advance, but it sounds like it is happening right now. Tierney reminds me of Diane Keaton singing "Seems Like Old Times" in Annie Hall. Which is touching.
The second "Get Happy" comes out very busy with the drums and bass cooking, and the piano comping his butt off. Tierney comes on as if she likes the song better up tempo, going through the lyric once. Then Jacob takes another involuted piano ride that I enjoy, and everybody trades fours with Brinker, the drummer, who is really working hard. Tierney comes back like gang-busters to reprieve the lyric, running through many of the titles on the album at a rapid clip until they all stop on a dime. Dynamite.
"Smile" comes back to the theme of happy/unhappy, from which we had a welcome respite during the last couple of tracks. This time Jacob teases a little French Impressionism from his piano to accompany Tierney in her lyrical treatment of the melody. Don't mean to bum anyone out on that last observation, but on this cut the pianist sounds more like Debussy than Teddy Wilson or Thelonious Monk to me. Which is cool.
I can't agree with the Business Week critic who called the album "a Masterpiece." But it is at least two notches above good. Above very good. Above excellent. Well, not above excellent. Maybe just plain excellent. How many of the much revered singers of the previous generation of really good singers put out albums where there was only one song that was "soft?" All of the songs of On The Other Side are well selected for this album, well thought out, well executed, more than merely going through the motions, so they bring fresh air to the arrangements and performances. Kudos to Tierney for some really fine singing, working the lyrics, working her side men; and kudos to the band for really tight playing without any padding.
Hats off once again to the Telarc engineers for sweating all the details enough to get a really life- like balance. A bright, clean, extraordinarily clear recording that sounds great in every venue: standard red-book CD, stereo SACD, and surround SACD; through headphones, big systems and small. This is the album I've been waiting for this group to deliver. In case you haven't got it yet, I recommend this album most highly. It's one of the best of this type in years that I've heard. If you like jazz, if you like chick singers, if you like cabaret singing, you'll love Tierney Sutton's On The Other Side. Go get it now. Don't put it off so it nags at your memory as something in your "To Do" box. Do it now! You won't be sorry.
And tell ‘em, Max Dudious sent you.