Jeff Simon-Buffalo News


A truly great record.

Tierney Sutton sings Joni Mitchell, and if you think that even tells a fifth of the story, forget it. This is not just a jazz singer doing meaningless, pseudo-hip-showoff drivel on the music of a wildly idiosyncratic master composer of American pop music. This is the gorgeous Joni Mitchell tribute disc of a woman who begins her notes to it thusly:

“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 orchestra arrangements by Vince Mendoza. It is composed of mostly standards, and it is the vocal album that I have listened to more than any others since its release. I consider it to be alongside Sinatra’s ‘Wee Small Hours’ and Billie Holiday’s ‘Lady in Satin.’ ”

Amen, sister, amen. That is a jazz singer who gets Joni Mitchell, who understands what she can do following her example on her extraordinary songs and what she can’t. This is not, then, a jazz singer like Roseanna Vitro, who did an album of Randy Newman songs with so much inappropriate jivey drivel that there wasn’t much point in singing Newman at all (whose songs are among the most idiosyncratic extant).

Maybe it helps to be Canadian. Ever since Mitchell’s “Both Sides Now,” Diana Krall has so often sung standards with Mitchell’s clear-cut influence that you have to believe that Canada’s female singers have an inside track into Mitchell no one else does.

It isn’t that Sutton isn’t creative – sometimes wildly so. She does “Big Yellow Taxi” alone accompanied by Ralph Humphrey’s brushes on drums. “The Dry Cleaner From Des Moines,” the best from Mitchell’s misfired collaboration with Charles Mingus, is sung Mitchell’s way but with a Hubert Laws solo she has to love. There’s no way that “Woodstock” – which was, by the way, written before the event despite its past tense lyrics – Sutton can’t match the sweetness and sensitivity of Mitchell’s upper register swoops, but what she does with the song’s low notes over Larry Golding’s piano is close to magnificent.

Other participants in Sutton’s brilliant Joni Mitchell project include the Turtle Island String Quartet and Al Jarreau.

It ends with a mash-up of “April in Paris” and “A Free Man in Paris,” which shouldn’t begin to work, but it does with a gutsy cunning that evinces a great jazz singer’s almost perfect understanding of one of the greatest singer-composers of her time.

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