SUTTON’S PLACE: When Tierney meets the Lobero, magic tends to happen, or so experience tells us. Tierney Sutton, certainly one of the great jazz vocalists alive at the moment, has appeared in the Lobero a few times with her acclaimed quartet, the last appearance being in 2010. The finely tuned dynamics, empathetic interchange, and her intelligent, re-inventive arrangements somehow play out with an uncommon beauty, depth, and brain-massaging magnetism in the ambience of this great jazz room on Canon Perdido.
On Friday, March 23, Sutton returns to the room she calls her “favorite place to play” (we don’t think she says that to all the rooms), the third of the four-concert Jazz at the Lobero series, in what promises to be an enchanting evening of song, but in a surprising new contextual garb. Sutton began working with flutist Hubert Laws over a year ago, and found in him a kindred spirit, musically and even timbrally, as if she were an alto flutist in a past or future life. To that central duet of voices, Sutton has added another Los Angeles–based jazz hero, the masterful guitarist Larry Koonse, one of the current jazz musicians most in line for the “deserving of wider recognition” badge. This power trio of important jazz voices who happen to live in SoCal bristles with potential for inspired music-making.
While easy to admire and sink into, Sutton’s music takes anything but the easy route. This much we have known from her carefully constructed and conceptualized albums and in the heat of a live show. Her last three albums — On the Other Side, Desire, and American Road — have been especially challenging and thematically driven, adding up to a kind of accidental triptych of song sets dealing with identity (personal and national), the perils of materialism, spiritual longing, and other ideas not normally expected from a jazz chanteuse.
She is doing something right, not only for admirers of musicality and “chops-personship” but also for the general listener, having earned the right to show up on the Grammys’ red carpet, with nominations for her past two albums. Last year’s American Road is a thing of wonder, conjuring up an impression of the American way and a sense of self, all through a musical tapestry ranging from the folk turf of “Oh Shenandoah/The Water Is Wide” to the reconsidered Protestant spirituality of “Amazing Grace” to a wildly kinetic “On Broadway” — and show tunes from Porgy and Bess and West Side Story. By the time she closes with a voice-and-piano version of “America the Beautiful,” with shades of ruminative quasi-patriotism and as many questions as declarations, Sutton has taken us on a journey through her musical brain, entertaining and evoking as she goes.
So she goes, as a musician, which makes her new “side” project with Laws and Koonse another enticing twist worth checking in on. Also on the broadened horizon of Sutton’s musical life is a new collaboration with the Turtle Island String Quartet, which so impressed a packed house at the Santa Barbara Museum of Art last month. As part of that aggregate, Sutton has been exploring her own late-blooming fascination with the music of poet/sage Joni Mitchell. We’re all ears.
IVORY MASTERY: Speaking of important doings at the Lobero, don’t miss the chance to catch pianist Pierre-Laurent Aimard in that room on Monday, March 26, as part of this season’s particularly inspired CAMA Masterseries, including Hélène Grimaud last fall and the Assad Brothers and Anonymous 4 this year. “Master” is the proper term, as anyone at the 2007 Ojai Music Festival can attest. On that blissfully lost weekend, Aimard — festival director and key soloist that year — heroically and sensitively took on challenging scores, including works by Schumann, Bach, Mozart, Ligeti, Ravel, and Charles Ives’s Concord Sonata (the last of which is also on the program, incidentally, for this June’s Festival, to be played by Marc-André Hamelin). At the Lobero, Aimard will play music by Schumann, György Kurtág, Liszt, and Debussy. Expect greatness and intimacy.