Tierney Sutton is both an evolutionary and a revolutionary talent. She has become known for her carefully crafted concept or thematic recordings that include her tribute to artists deserving more attention (Unsung Heroes), her tribute to Bill Evans (Blue in Green), her nod to quasi-jazz singers (Something Cool), her tribute to Frank Sinatra (Dancing in the Dark), and I’m With the Band. The latter recording showed Sutton rightly elevating her band to her equal. Sutton has had one of the most stable trios in recent memory. Pianist Christian Jacob, bassists Trey Henry and Kevin Axt, and drummer Ray Brinker comprise a rhythm juggernaut that creatively pushes Sutton as much as Sutton pushes back.
Enter now the Tierney Sutton Band, evolved from simply Tierney Sutton. Now a discreet working unit in both name and deed, the Tierney Sutton Band embarks on its most progressively creative recital yet. On The Other Side addresses “happiness,” but not in the linear manner one would expect. Songs about happiness or its absence are cast with arrangements that are often anxiously antithetical. The uniform characteristics throughout the recording are the unusual bass and drum figures employed behind these ostensibly upbeat songs. Instead of bright sunshine, a brooding, almost Gothic atmosphere is affected.
The disc is palindromically book-ended by two different performances of “Get Happy” and “Happy Days are Here Again.” The opening “Get Happy” greets the listener with a stark, simple drum figure and a shadowy three-chord piano drone. Sutton scats into the first verse, the band slowly building an inevitable momentum. At full force, the song takes on a gale quality with drummer Brinker blowing and blowing before the storm calms and Sutton leads all out. The first version of “Happy Days are Here Again” begins at a fast clip with a nervously frenetic bass line that provides the anxiety of the piece. Brinker propels the song with his hi-hat while pianist Jacob strolls staggers through style after style. Sutton almost sounds disembodied from the music, her thread holding the song together. Great stuff.
The closing “Happy Days” is a relaxed ballad, again with brilliant bass playing accenting Sutton's crystalline tone. This version is jarringly different in reverse compared to the first. The band plays in perfect unity, expressing some quiet, as compared to the frenetic pace of the opening version. The final “Get Happy” is a positive 180 degrees from the disc's opener. Ray Brinker sets up a “Radar Love” beat and Jacob adds some Horace Silver church with the piano. Sutton pulls out all of the vocal stops and proves why she is such a great innovator.
The music on the disc evolves slowly. “You are My Sunshine” is anything but, coming off as a plaintive, hymn-like recitation of longing. “Glad to be Unhappy” is strangely calm with an ephemeral bass pattern tickling Sutton into some straight vocalese and fine singing. “Happy Talk” offers Sutton’s best scatting over some sprite piano playing by Jacob. Her trio shines bright, providing the singer with provocation and inspiration. Sutton, for her part, has produced a challenging vocal recital not seen since Lisa Sokolov’s Presence. Sutton’s efforts, coupled with those of her band, make this a most enjoyable jazz recording--of any kind.
By C. Michael Bailey allaboutjazz.com
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