by Josef Woodard
“REAL JAZZ” SINGERS’ CLUB: Last week, the calmly remarkable jazz vocalist Tierney Sutton strolled onstage at SOhO, appearing with the hot, Los Angeles-based Chris Walden Big Band. It was as if she were just a girl singer who drove up for the gig, instead of what she is: one of the very finest living jazz singers — of the “real jazz” singer category. That odd “real” qualifier attests to stylistic fuzziness in the current jazz singer trade, with vocalists freely taking side trips.
Sometimes, conservatism can be a beautiful thing, considering, say, Sutton’s controlled mastery of tone, phrasing, and sharp scatting. Lately, more Santa Barbarans are catching Sutton fever, flocking to her Lobero concerts and SOhO cameos with growing fervor.
Of course, other fine singers have their heads wisely buried in the Great American Songbook and maintain solid jazz cred, but they don’t always find their way to record deals or to credit due. One worth seeking out is Roberta Gambarini, the Italian-born and bred musician who has lived in N.Y.C. since 1998 and finally has an album out to show off her considerable talents, Easy to Love (KRM). From the first pearly tones of the title track to the serpentine elegance of “Monk’s Prayer/Looking Back,” it’s clear that Gambarini has done her homework and her heartwork. She scats up a disciplined, Ella-esque storm on “On the Sunny Side of the Street” and on “Centerpiece;” she gets artfully balladic on “Guess I’ll Hang My Tears Out to Dry,” while swapping riffs with James Moody. Watch and listen for Gambarini: If musical justice prevails, she’ll soon be haunting public spaces near you (maybe even a SOhO gig?).
HIS SONG SHIP: No, Anne Kerry Ford does not include that old chestnut “Mack the Knife” on her lustrous new Kurt Weill project, Weill (Illyria Records). But Roger Kellaway, her arranger/keyboardist (and fellow Ojai resident), was recently earlobe-deep in the song as the music director for Kevin Spacey’s Bobby Darrin tribute (Kellaway also worked with Darrin back in the day).
Weill is a glorious and fascinating new celebration of one of the greatest 20th-century songwriters, whose songs have been eagerly adapted by the jazz musicians who relish Weill’s distinctive mix of sophistication, harmonic innovation, and directness of feeling. But Ford — unlike her husband, Robben Ford, who plays on the record — comes from the cabaret world rather than jazz, per se, and her delivery is lucidly theatrical. She gives us a brief “My Ship,” and polishes up less obvious jewels from the library, including “Tango Ballad,” “Solomon Song,” “Progress,” “Surabaya Johnny” (with its quote from “Mack the Knife”), and the dreamily lyrical “Lost in the Stars” to close.
It doesn’t hurt that Ford is backed by the fab WDR Big Band from Cologne, Germany, whose colorful foundation blends jazz, art song, and pre-existential pop. Weill is a dazzling addition to the Weill discography.
FRINGE MUSIC ALERT, GOING SOUTH: Fringe music lovers heading south, or looking for excuses to do so, take note. Friday night at the Wiltern brings the eagerly awaited Zappa Plays Zappa concert, with Dweezil leading a hot young band and vet Napoleon Murphy Brock through his late father’s delicious musical mazes, with guests including Steve Vai and Terry Bozzio. Saturday at the architectural oasis of West Hollywood’s Schindler House, the adventurous “sound.” series kicks off with Japanese avant-guitarist Tetuzi Akiyama, the “boogie knight” (www.soundnet.org).
TO-DOINGS: The news is out, all over the tri-counties: Pozo Saloon, outside of Santa Margarita, north of San Luis Obispo, is one of the hipper live musical spots around. String Cheese Incident, stars of the jamband omniverse, will kick off its summer tour at Pozo, on a double bill with our man Bob Weir and his non-Dead band Ratdog. SCI sounds real good in the great outdoors, as proven by its Bowl show a few years ago. Bring an appetite for extended jams and blurred genres. (Got e? Email email@example.com.)