Susan Sutton Trio Reviews

Review of "Susan Sutton Trio:"

AMG REVIEW: For their first recording, the California-based Susan Sutton Trio have chosen to go with a play list of originals written by Sutton. Sutton comes from the swinging, upbeat jazz school whose female graduates include Dorothy Donegan, Mary Lou Williams, and Hazel Scott. Sutton also sings with a deep, pleasant voice on "Song for Mac" and "Stopping by Woods," the latter a Robert Frost poem, Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening, to which Sutton has added music. This is the famous Frost verse which ends: "And I have miles to go before I sleep." Sutton's music and vocalizing do it justice. Her singing, like her piano, is vibrant. There will be no mistaking this performer for Shirley Horn or Nina Simone. Sutton has a way of giving her music unique modulations with discerning use of the keyboard. "November With Mother Hubbard" is embellished with electronically constructed vibes, while "Kaydea" gets hyped with a sound that resembles muffled chimes. Her cohorts -- Lloyd Wick on drums and Eddie Dunn and Michael Lufkin sharing bass duties -- stay right with their leader on this high-voltage recording. Wick and Lufkin contribute solo licks on "Amoroso." This fine album is available only on cassette from Sutton. Its exuberant and catchy music makes it a worthy addition to a collection. -- Dave Nathan

Review of "Songs for the Heart and Soul"

AMG REVIEW: Following up quickly after her first release in 1988, Susan Sutton returns with a second album with important differences from her first. The play list is no longer limited to compositions by Sutton. They are in the minority, with standards getting the main play. While Sutton sang on only two tracks on her initial album, she sings on most tracks here, an excellent addition. Sutton goes about vocalizing in a straightforward, no-nonsense, unembellished manner, recognizing that the song's message is in the lyrics, not in any vocal gymnastics. Another beneficial modification is the presence of Larry Baskett guesting on trumpet and flugelhorn. He makes his presence felt immediately with significant solo successes on the opening two cuts, "Better Than Anything" and "Body and Soul." Because there are ballads on the program, the overall demeanor of the album is less exuberant than the first outing. But that doesn't mean that the album lacks excitement. Listen to the group swing on "Nothing Like You" and oscillate with a Latin beat to "Sirocco." It's just that there is now greater balance between swinging upbeat and slower tempos. Sutton accompanies herself on piano and continues to make discriminating use of the keyboards to create instrumentation that enhances rather than overwhelms the music. Another factor that makes this work is the stability created by Lloyd Wick on drums and Michael Lufkin and Eddie Dunn, who share bass, returning members of the basic trio. When it comes to small-group jazz, familiarity breeds success rather than contempt, or it should and it does with this group. This album is available only on cassette from Sutton. -- Dave Nathan

Review of "California Carnival"

AMG REVIEW: California pianist/vocalist Susan Sutton's third release goes in a different direction than her first two. While she returns to a play list of all her originals, as on her initial release, they now have a decidedly Latin coloring to them, starting right from the album's kickoff tune, "California Carnival," and persisting with such tunes as "Love Bird" and "Aireation." The usual trio format has been discarded for a quintet with the addition of David Scott on tenor sax and flute and Larry Baskett on trumpet and flugelhorn. Scott makes his presence felt right from the start with flute and sax solos on the first track. This cut also restates Sutton's predilection for adding a vibes resonance through her keyboards. Sutton continues her pleasant vocalizing on some cuts, although not nearly as many as on her second release, For Music Lovers...Songs for the Heart and Soul. "One Reason to Be" is a pleasant medium-tempo ballad which Sutton enriches with her deep, rich, and mature, unadorned way with a song. Baskett sustains the relaxed mood with a horn solo while Sutton takes some time to show off her melodic pianism before another vocal chorus. This track is one of the most attractive on the album. The practice of reprising tunes from previous releases is also maintained. This time it's "November With Mother Hubbard" from the Susan Sutton Trio album. With each passing release, Sutton's compositions become more structurally and harmonically sophisticated and adventurous. "Into Your Eyes' features strong interplay between Scott and Baskett, with the rhythm section laying down more than simply keeping the support underneath the two major soloists. "Rare Bear" is peppered with Monk-ish figures. With every outing, Sutton grows in stature as a composer and performer. Recommended. -- Dave Nathan

Review of "Small Hotel"

AMG REVIEW: Susan Sutton never lacks for variety in the music she selects for her albums and the format she uses to play it. Her fourth outing is of live performances at the Mount View Hotel in Calistoga, CA, an occasion when she returns to her more familiar trio configuration. The musical program this time around is not limited solely to her work, but is a mix of standards and original material. Also for the first time she abandons use of the keyboards, which she successfully had used to add resonance to her music. Keyboards or not, the patented Sutton exuberance, excitement, and exhilaration continues to abound on each track. On "Mountain View" her pianist trills, cadenzas, and other embellishments are punctuated by the bass lines of Nils Molin and the percussive shots of longtime drummer associate Lloyd Wick. The trend toward featuring Latin pulses continues with a samba-like "There's a Small Hotel," to which Sutton adds vocal choruses. Sutton's flirtations with jagged Monk-ish figures are heard on her "Nearly East," reprised from an earlier release but with a different arrangement. The audience that evening must have been filled with sophisticated listeners, as Sutton was throwing some rather complicated material at them. In addition to her own pieces, there's a more-than-seven-minute exploration of Steve Kuhn's "Saga." But this didn't faze the audience one iota, as indicated by their appreciative applause. With each successive musical excursion, Susan Sutton shows she is a significant practitioner of the modern piano. In addition to an excellent play list and stimulating performances, this album has more than 75 minutes of music, all of which make it a best buy. -- Dave Nathan

Reviw of "Da Me Cinco"

AMG REVIEW: Originally released in 1995 and now reissued on David Watson's Music in the Vines/Sonoma Jazz label, Da Me Cinco is pianist/vocalist Susan Sutton's fifth album. All the compositions on the play list, written between 1980 and 1994, belong to Sutton. Billed as a group that specializes in Latin jazz, the band's approach to this style is more akin to Renee Rosnes than George Shearing. It is crisp with bop overtones, without much give in rhythmic patterns as each tune moves along at a fairly bracing pace, all with a certain sameness. That's one of the risks of limiting the performance to a single musical style, and all written by the same person to boot. Matters simply begin to wear after a while, even though the playing is of a high caliber. One exception to the Latin lilt is a bouncing, straight-ahead "It's Only Right," played in a manner similar to Shirley Horn. The electricity on Hillel Familant's bass is tuned off and the instrument is returned to its role of being the anchor for the trio. This is also one of the few tracks where Sutton sings, which she does with an on-the-pitch mark, in a low pleasing voice. Familant's electric bass is prominent on most of the tracks, picking up the melody line as Sutton passes it to him, as on "Señor Fuentes." This trio certainly has what it takes to be at least an attractive -- if not a major -- jazz practitioner. Thankfully, they gave themselves a better opportunity to show their wares by broadening the play list on their next recording, Element 44. But for those who revel in that Latin beat, Da Me Cinco is certainly a worthy album to consider. -- Dave Nathan

Review of "Element 44"

AMG REVIEW: Susan Sutton's Element 44 differs considerably from the album immediately preceding it, Da Me Cinco (Give Me Five), in several noticeable respects. Although the agenda is again comprised of Sutton originals, the music is more varied, going beyond the Latin jazz mode that monopolized the previous album. Even the Latin material -- and there is some of that replicating a couple of pieces from her previous release -- has a more mellifluous feel to it. The music and playing also seem to be more mature and relaxed, as in the lilting "Gypsy Samba," leaving the listener with a greater sense of fulfillment. With these different rhythms, the playing flows more smoothly and is less jagged and staccato-driven. One addition that will broaden the appeal of this session is the appearance of David Scott on tenor and flute on three of the tracks. Both tenor and flute comes into play on a freewheeling, Brazilian beat "California Carnivál." Dubbing allows both to be playing at the same time, giving the group a bigger, fuller sound than might be expected from its numbers. His tenor takes on an Ernie Watts tone on the pretty "Cablegram." The bass continues to have a big part in Sutton's arranging scheme. On this album, there are four bassists (not all at the same time), with no drop-off in the quality of playing with any of them. Sutton has chosen not to sing on this CD, which is a bit of disappointment as her voice has a compelling storytelling quality about it. This is an absolutely attractive session and is recommended. -- Dave Nathan

Review of "Beyond:"

Pianist Susan Sutton continues to grow as a performing artist and as a composer on this, her seventh album. Reliance on Latin jazz has declined and the play list has been opened up to include compositions other than just her own. The result is both greater variety and opportunity for Sutton to use her interpretative skills and to solidify her place as a multi-dimensional performer. She also shows a somewhat distinctive piano technique with the way she uses her right hand. She employs it not only to move the melody along, but to improvise as well. There are times when one can barely discern the presence of her left hand. This why the bass player is so important in her scheme of things. She was wise to have brought on Naim Satya to fill the bass chair. His intriguing lines are always on the mark, never faltering or wandering. The ability to affirm the melody comes through on "Nuevo Cancion," an engaging Sutton composition carried over from her last album. Satya's "Victoria G" is one of the more absorbing tracks on the CD. Lloyd Wick has been the constant in Sutton's trio, usually relegated to beating out Latin rhythms. On this album, he gets a chance to show what he can do with bop and other jazz styles. With each new recording, Sutton has moved forward with her creativity, making each album a satisfying session of fulfilled anticipation. -- Dave Nathan

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