Jazz reclaims Tel Aviv

Seven-time Grammy nominee Tierney Sutton brings her passion for Joni Mitchell’s sounds

Tierney Sutton (photo credit: TATIJANA SHOAN)
Tierney Sutton
(photo credit: TATIJANA SHOAN)
As any jazz fan knows, much of the material that has been performed or recorded over the last 70 or more years comes from the “standard” category. That offers benefits and risks.
On the one hand, it is often much easier for musicians to find their way into the ears and hearts of the listener if they play something that is familiar.
However, if you’re going to offer something that has been heard countless times before, you have to bring something new to the creative fray; you have to make it your own.
Tierney Sutton has clearly managed to do that with the works she will bring here for her show on opening night of the Tel Aviv Jazz Festival (November 25 to 27 at the Tel Aviv Cinematheque), as well as her second gig at the Zappa Club in Tel Aviv the following day.
The Wednesday slot will be based on After Blue, Sutton’s 2013 recording, which is based on the music of Joni Mitchell. The color in the title refers to Mitchell’s seminal 1971 album Blue which, for many, was the entry disc into Mitchell’s large and wide-ranging oeuvre. The 52-year-old seven-time Grammy nominee confesses to being something of a Mitchell junkie, even though it took her a while to get started.
“When I was growing up, I heard her stuff but I wasn’t one of those big Joni Mitchell fans,” says Sutton. “I really became passionate about music when I discovered jazz in college.
I was familiar with her [Mitchell’s] Mingus album and I saw she was really into jazz, but I listened to exclusively jazz artists for about 32 years.”
Sutton finally irrevocably fell for Mitchell when she heard the singer’s 2000 album Both Sides Now.
“It is mostly jazz standards, and I fell in love with that album,” she states. “I think I have listened to that more than any other vocal album in my life. I realized what a great artist she was.”
With that epiphany, the only problem Sutton had was trying to come to grips with the full welter of the Mitchell back catalogue, but Both Sides Now quickly set her on a Mitchell- ward path, which shows no signs Tierney Sutton (Tatijana Shoan) of abating.
“At that point I went back and listened to Blue and listened to Court and Spark and listened to [1970 album] Ladies of the Canyon and all those records,” she recounts.
Even though Sutton’s newfound love affair with Mitchell’s material came on the back of many years of earnest jazz endeavor, it was not Sutton’s core genre that drove her into Mitchell’s musical arms.
“For me, it’s not necessarily really about how jazzy she is, but it is about what a great composer she is and what a great lyricist she is,” Sutton explains.
Then again, paradoxically, therein lies the Sutton-Mitchell jazzy umbilical cord.
“[Jazz pianist] Keith Jarrett has written about why people play jazz standards over and over again. It is because the architecture is so solid.
There is such an interesting harmonic and melodic structure to play on, and a verbal one too. Many of Joni’s songs provide that,” says Sutton. “There aren’t many songs that stand up to a [multi-Grammy Award winning songwriter] Johnny Mercer lyric or a [modern jazz pioneering pianist and composer Thelonious] Monk harmony, but she is singular in that way to have the ability.”
Sutton and I spoke the day after the horrific attacks took place in Paris, and she had just ascertained that Serge Merlaud, the French guitarist who will join American bassist Kevin Axt for Sutton’s Israeli shows, was safe and sound. There is, in fact, a prominent Gallic element to Sutton’s salute to Mitchell.
“There’s a combination of two songs on my Joni record, and we’ll be doing this in the show, where I put together ‘Free Man in Paris’ [from Mitchell’s 1974 record Court and Spark] and ‘April in Paris,’” she says.
Sutton eventually got the requisite push in the right direction from a fellow musician, cellist Mark Summer then of the Turtle Island String Quartet.
She was looking for a new project to embark on, and Summer came up with the Mitchell proposal.
“He said, ‘What do you think about Joni Mitchell?’ and I said, ‘That’s a great idea,’” she recounts.
It may have taken Summer’s prompt to set the After Blue cogs churning but, in fact, the venture had been percolating for some time.
“I had been listening to Joni Mitchell’s music for over 10 years by then, and I knew I couldn’t just decide to do a Joni album and have it done the next day. I knew it was going to take time,” she says.
In the event, it transpired that all the groundwork had already been laid and the Mitchell outing, which eventually became After Blue, was up and running within a short time.
The personnel on the album makes for impressive reading. Besides the aforementioned foursome, it includes a glittering jazz complement of drummer Peter Erskine, keyboardist Larry Goldings and flutist Hubert Laws, in addition to multi Grammy laureate vocalist Al Jarreau and Sutton’s sidemen for her Tel Aviv shows.
“It all came together so quickly, and it couldn’t have happened any sooner,” notes Sutton philosophically.
“This is such deep music. The other musicians said,’You take music that people have heard before and you maybe uncover a new and different element to it.’” Therein lay the double-edged crux of the matter. But with all her experience in the field and her painstakingly accrued insight into Mitchell’s legacy, Sutton was not about to let the project drift off course and was determined to respect Mitchell’s wondrous body of work, while making sure she had plenty of room to leave her own stamp on the album.
Jazz fans and Mitchell followers alike should find plenty to wrap their ears around at the Tel Aviv Cinematheque “After Blue” gig on Wednesday. It will feature some of Mitchell’s best-loved numbers, including “Woodstock” and “Big Yellow Taxi.” Mitchell will also be in the mix at the Zappa date, which will glean from Sutton’s latest release, Paris Sessions. Like the Mitchell outing, it benefits from Sutton’s measured lush vocals, as well as her polished skills as arranger.
Other standouts in the resurrected Tel Aviv Jazz Festival include robust US saxophonist JD Allen, who will perform a tribute to avant-garde jazz pioneer Ornette Coleman, as well as his own charts, and trumpeter Joe Magnarelli. Meanwhile, those who prefer their jazz seasoned with some ethnic spices, or vice versa, have plenty to choose from, with Andalusian- influenced jazz pianist Omri Mor mixing with it with stellar percussionists Shlomo Bar and Zohar Fresco, while Australian-based, Jerusalem-born Prime Minister’s Prize laureate pianist and composer Yitzhak Yedid and veteran Ethiopian- born saxophonist-vocalist Abate Berihon revisit their Ras Deshen duo project of many years ago. On the more commercially oriented side of the festival program, there are Matti Caspi and Danny Sanderson, although the former will cast a jazzy eye over some of his own songs.
For tickets and more information: *9080 and www.zappa-club.co.il