Released September 24, 2013
Grammy Nominee for Best Jazz Vocal Album 2014
THE JONI MITCHELL PROJECT
Shortly after Y2K fizzled into nothing, a friend said to me in hushed tones, “Have you heard it yet?” “It” was Joni Mitchell’s 2000 tour-de-force album, Both Sides Now with orchestral arrangements by Vince Mendoza. It is composed of mostly standards and it is the vocal album that I have listened to more than any other in the years since its release. I consider it to be alongside Sinatra’s Wee Small Hours and Billie Holliday’s Lady in Satin. For the twenty years before, all my closest friends, my producer and my manager, had been telling me I needed to listen to Joni Mitchell. As a singer focused on The Great American Songbook, I’d finally found my doorway into Joni-land.
From there I began to spend time with Mitchell’s earlier work including Court and Spark, Mingus, Hejira, For The Roses and of course, her early masterwork, Blue. I knew that Mitchell’s music was not something I could glance at and then perform. I had to live with it for years. Like her fans who had absorbed the music in their youth, I wanted to “marinate” in Joni Mitchell. And over the past ten years that’s what I’ve done. From time to time I’d perform something, Big Yellow Taxi which I’d known for years or A Case of You which was requested for a private event. I didn’t feel ready to address Mitchell’s compositions with integrity, so I let the matter rest, but I was listening to Joni’s albums more than those of any other artist during these years.
In 2011, I was approached about a collaboration with The Turtle Island Quartet. When cellist Mark Summer asked “What do you think about doing some Joni Mitchell?” my answer was, “Yes.” We played through All I Want and Little Green and I knew that I was finally ready to start. Joni Mitchell’s music, at least some of it, was inside me.
The Turtles and I debuted the project at the Lobero Theatre in Santa Barbara in September of 2012. By luck, Elaine Martone, the producer of eight of my previous albums, who had been one of the loudest voices asking me to record Mitchell’s work, was at the show with my good friend Steve Cloud who manages Keith Jarrett. After hearing the four Mitchell compositions in the program, Elaine and Steve basically cornered me and said, “You have to do this,” and I agreed. It was finally time.
Meanwhile, my longtime bandmates Christian Jacob and Ray Brinker were committed to their own projects and family obligations so I knew I was meant to look elsewhere for collaborators this time around. Shortly after I conceived of the project, Peter Erskine, who had become a good friend, told me he’d like to play on the CD. He also suggested Larry Goldings on [Hammond] B3 [Organ]. As the drummer on both Mingus AND Both Sides Now, I knew Peter was … the perfect choice. As for Larry, I was an even bigger fan of his acoustic piano playing than I was of his famed B3 work, and I knew after one afternoon of playing together that he was right for this project too.
At the same time the Joni project was emerging, TSB [Tierney Sutton Band] bassist Kevin Axt and I recorded an intimate standards project with Paris-based guitarist, Serge Merlaud. I knew from the start that I wanted to include one or two standards on the Joni project – songs I had learned from Joni’s exquisite renditions on Both Sides Now. I chose Don’t Go To Strangers and my favorite, Answer Me, My Love. Something felt right about this instrumentation – classic Jazz, no frills. For me, these songs are every bit as much “Joni Mitchell” as her own compositions.
The last piece, and one that only came together at Sam the night before the session, was to join one of Joni’s compositions with a standard. I knew that Joni had been influenced greatly by Jazz standards and as a Jazz singer, I wanted to show that there isn’t a separation between the genres. Great music is great music. Larry and I had discussed this idea and he suggested that if there was some uniting concept, then it would make sense to a have a standard with a Joni tune even if Joni had never recorded the standard. “How about Paris?” he suggested. A leadsheet for April In Paris sat quite literally next to my Joni Mitchell songbook. It wasn’t until waking with insomnia the night before the session that I sat down and figured out how the two songs went together and how the lyrics told a single story.
After Blue means many things to me. It comes after my thirty years of concentrating on the Blue In Green tones of Miles and Bill Evans and Coltrane and Sinatra. After spending time with the many hues of Joni’s own repertoire, I hope this record represents a coming together of those hues – those colors of music. Thank you Joni Mitchell for your inspiration, your excellence. All I can hope for here is to scratch the surface of your deep legacy – to paint a little multi-colored portrait inspired by you.”
1. Blue (Joni Mitchell) 4:11
2. All I Want (Joni Mitchell) 3:28
3. Court and Spark (Joni Mitchell) 4:57
4. Don’t Go to Strangers (Redd Evans / Arthur Kent / Dave Mann) 5:56
5. The Dry Cleaner from Des Moines (Charles Mingus / Joni Mitchell) 5:15
6. Big Yellow Taxi (Joni Mitchell) 3:06
7. Woodstock (Joni Mitchell) 6:08
8. Little Green (Joni Mitchell) 4:53
9. Be Cool (Joni Mitchell) 5:50
10. Answer Me My Love (Fred Rauch / Carl Sigman / Gerhard Winkler) 3:45
11. Both Sides Now (Joni Mitchell) 5:11
12. April in Paris/Free Man in Paris (Vernon Duke / E.Y. “Yip” Harburg / Joni Mitchell) 5:36
Tierney Sutton: vocals
Hubert Laws: flute (5, 9)
Peter Erskine: drums (5, 9)
Ralph Humphrey: drums (6)
Larry Goldings: piano, B3 organ (3, 5, 7, 9, 12)
Serge Merlaud: guitar (4, 10)
Kevin Axt: bass (4)
Al Jarreau: vocals (9)
Turtle Island String Quartet (1, 2, 8, 11)
Recorded at Umbrella Media and Studio Val d’Orge
Produced by Tierney Sutton and Elaine Martone
Tierney Sutton is the calm current flowing through the turbulent water of jazz vocals, making big changes and important recordings without stirring the water too much. Her creative presence and influence cannot be denied when listening to Gretchen Parlato, Becca Stevens and Renee Yoxon and Mark Ferguson among many others. Sutton’s musical metaphysics is grounded in cool yet penetrating exploration using the traditional jazz instrumentation and songbook, transforming both in the bargain. On After Blue, Sutton steps away from the “standard” Great American Songbook to what can be considered a “new” Great American (Canadian) Songbook, that of vocalist composer Joni Mitchell.
The last recording Sutton devoted to a single artist was 2001’s Blue In Green (Telarc), which was devoted to the compositions of pianist Bill Evans. On that recording, Sutton took what was initially composed as instrumental music, giving it a voice and in doing so, revealing Evans’ melodic gift. She does the same and expands the scope of Mitchell’s songs, recasting them in new and refreshing ways. Sutton performs a beautiful vocal alchemy with Mitchell’s material. She steps far enough out of her jazz box of familiarity to transform her voice into a new force of nature. With perfect comfort, Sutton renews this material with her singing. These performances exist on an equal footing with the originals, not as imitations, but as complete re-assimilations. This is what interpretive art is meant to be. This swirling evolution is what makes Sutton one of the two or three most important vocalists in the post-Fitzgerald-Vaughan-Carter period.
Another area in which Sutton excels is in the collaborative arranging of these songs. She has always experimented with format and does not alter her modus operandi here. On “Blue,” “All I Want,” “Little Green,” and “Both Sides Now,” Sutton is backed by the Turtle Island String Quartet as arranged by first violinist David Balakrishnan. Sutton’s soprano is well suited for this chamber treatment making these pieces exceptional, particularly “Blue” and “Both Sides Now.”
Sutton favors vocal duets with solo instruments as on “Big Yellow Taxi” where she pairs with drummer Ralph Humphrey. Frequent collaborator Larry Goldings provides a moody piano on “Court and Spark” and “Woodstock” while he rocks the B3 on “Be Cool” (on which Sutton duets with Al Jarreau). Sutton closes the disc with a mashup of “April in Paris” and “Free Man in Paris” backed only by Goldings, who provides a crepuscular mood to close this most excellent disc.
C. Michael Bailey (AllAboutJazz)