Dr. Perry Alexander

The University of Kansas

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After Blue - Tierney Sutton

Tierney Sutton’s After Blue is a collection of Joni Mitchell tunes she performs with several backing ensembles including The Turtle Island Quartet. If you’re not familiar with Sutton (I wasn’t before this) she typically does straight-ahead jazz vocal albums with a mix of standards and original work. I ran across her stuff before making this purchase, but never bit. I will be going back and listening again after this wonderful album.

Joni Mitchell is an interesting character. If you ask most folks about her, they immediately go to her folk music work. Think Big Yellow Taxi and Both Sides Now, both of which appear on this album. What many don’t remember is that she worked as much with jazz players as she did as a folk musician. In fact, she was frustrated by the label of a folk musician. She had a wonderful relationship with Charles Mingus and I have an album she did with a young Pat Metheny and Jaco Pastorius. Don Juan’s Reckless Daughter is considered a classic as is Blue among many others.

I guess what I’m getting at is that if you make a jazz album of Joni Mitchell tunes you have quite a bit to work with. After much ado and intro, let me say that Tierney Sutton does absolutely brilliant work with Mitchell’s songs. They are definitely sung in a wonderful jazz style, but she goes to great effort to preserve the structure and integrity of each song. If you care at all for vocal jazz, this is an album you really must own.

All I Want opens the album and is a wonderful rendition of the classic Mitchell tune. Sutton captures Mitchell’s sweet, soaring vocal style that characterizes this tune. Backing by Turtle Island is wonderful and compliments Sutton’s vocals.

Big Yellow Taxi is a virtual requirement for covering Joni Mitchell. It’s my second favorite track on the album with Sutton romping over the changes of a classic folk tune. She takes liberties with the intro doing a nice little skat to open. Backed only by a snare and kick drum, she launches into the verse with a nice jazzy take. Rather than kicking in a full ensemble, she stays with only the drum backing her voice and throws in some nice improv work. I keep waiting for the full ensemble to appear, but it never does. And it always works. Exceptionally nice track.

Answer Me My Love opens with a beautiful solo classical guitar and is as simple as a song can be. Sutton does a nice, subtle solo in the middle bars that shows great restraint in a way that only someone confident in their craft can do. April In Paris is similar, wandering closer to a jazz ballad away from Mitchell’s more folksy sound.

The only duet on the album is with Al Jarreau on Be Cool where Jarreau’s influence definitely shines through. A flute solo and nice organ backing give this the sound of something that could easily appear on any of Jarreau’s great albums. In the middle of the song one doesn’t need to be told who the second vocalist is!

Blue has a neo-classical feel too it, reminding me of something that yMusic might do or something that would appear on a Turtle Island *solo album.

Sutton’s version of Both Sides Now is simply breathtaking. It is perfection in terms of style, her vocals, and the cello work behind her. Sutton sings simply - no pyrotechnics - and beautifully. Just like Mitchell did with the original. Mark Summer of Turtle Island Quartet provides cello behind Sutton that just warms the soul. Again, simple and perfect playing. I love the sound of cello, but this
is far more than just a love for cello. Summers is playing with Sutton and interacting in ways that remind me of Scott Lafaro and Bill Evans on their trio work. I can’t say enough about this track - it warrants purchase of the entire album.

Court and Spark heads straight back to a traditional piano accompaniment. Quiet and down-tempo, this is done as a wonderful ballad. Following immediately is Don’t Go To Strangers done with just a slight latin touch. Also done as a ballad accompanied by two guitars, this could appear in my favorite movie, Next Stop Wonderland. Little Green goes back to accompaniment from Turtle Island keeping the rotation ballad heavy with a classical bent to the structure.

The Drycleaner From Des Moines takes things just a touch uptempo. Wonderful flute work with Sutton’s voice. Very much a cool jazz feel in the west coast tradition. Maybe something that Chet Baker might come up with. Nice change up and one that took me by surprise.

Finally, the album closes with Woodstock, a quiet piano accompanied ballad. Definitely a story in the folk-inspired lyrics, but done with jazz sensibilities. A somewhat anticlimactic ending to a wonderful album, but somehow the the perfect ending.

Buy this one.