BFM Jazz 3020624192
Tierney Sutton, the five-time Grammy-nominated jazz singer has turned her considerable talents to Joni Mitchell’s music on this, her tenth release. After Blue is a collection of covers, mostly from Mitchell’s heyday in the 70s and 80s, and includes some of her more popular hits like “Big Yellow Taxi,” “Woodstock” and “Both Sides Now.” The challenge with covering much-loved songs such as these is to be innovative enough to not slavishly mimic, without straying so far from the original as to render the songs unrecognizable. Sutton and the band have managed to strike that fine balance, largely by staying true to Mitchell’s vocal lines while introducing clever new treatments and arrangements through the instrumental accompaniment.
The band members on After Blue are not Sutton’s regulars and include such greats as Al Jarreau (the 73-year-old is a gas on Be Cool), Hubert Laws, Peter Erskine (who was Mitchell’s drummer on Both Sides Now and Mingus) and Larry Goldings. But it’s the work of the Turtle Island Quartet that really elevates some of these tunes, in particular “Little Green,” a simple song from Mitchell’s early days that here gets made over into a contrapuntal beauty. Cellist Kevin Summer shines as his solo work with Sutton on “All I Want” is multi-textured and lively. Although “Dry Cleaner from Des Moines” is fun in its stripped down, beatnik form here, it doesn’t hold a candle to the energy of the original. In general, this is a low-key, thoughtful album and a wonderful tribute to a master songwriter.