There’s the “American Songbook,” standards of jazz, pop, classical and other styles that were written by American composers and have been interpreted and re-interpreted many times by vocalists, instrumentalists and even full orchestras.
Then there’s American Road, by the Tierney Sutton Band, presenting 12 fresh takes on standards, including several popular songs that have not been covered ad nauseam.
The band features Sutton on vocals, Christian Jacob on piano, Kevin Axt and Trey Henry share electric and acoustic bass duties, and Ray Brinker on drums and percussion. The Grammy-nominated group pays tribute to several prominent songwriters, such as Ira and George Gershwin, E.Y. Harburg and Harold Arlen, and Stephen Sondheim and Leonard Bernstein.
Sutton’s soothing, wordless vocal, accompanied only by bass, introduces the melody to “Amazing Grace.” A key change brings in the piano, underscoring the familiar lyrics: “Amazing grace, how sweet the sound.” After the first verse, the drums and bass return. The 3/4 tempo is played like a waltz. Jacobs steps out front during the instrumental break, accented by bass and drums, with Sutton offering more wordless vocals. The mood gets stronger before the song downshifts to a tranquil, voice/piano duet.
The band brings a brooding, inner-city feel to the Gerswhin’s “It Ain’t Necessarily So.” The band goes into high gear for a spirited scat by Sutton, then reverts to the primary mood. Sutton sings with a nasal twang, adding to the dark, defiant vibe of this arrangement. Brinker cuts loose on the toms during several phrases.
Sutton’s singing is first-rate, but her chants and scats may be even more enjoyable, at times evoking the qualities of a flute. And the quartet of musicians who accompany her (both bassists are on several tracks) do more than just provide background. Each is a significant contributor to American Roads, which may be the band’s most adventurous recording to date.
The Jazz Writer