Sue's 3rd CD. Jazz meets the gravel road!
With such accolades for her previous releases of standards and originals as “exquisite control of both rhythm and sound” (George Carroll, Musicians’ Ombudsman), “a wonderful writer and lyricist” (Peter LaBarbara, The Jazz Zine), and “richly musical” (Winthrop Bedford, Jazz Improv), Sue approached the plan for her third recording with an eye (and ear) for something a bit different. “Unlike my first two CDs, my goal on this CD was to create more of an earthy jazz feel. Basically...jazz meets the gravel road. Using rhythm guitar instead of drums helped to accomplish this.” And Sue was looking for tunes that were less familiar. “I took a lot of time picking out the tunes. My criteria was threefold; great melodies with lyrics one can relate to today, songs that weren’t recorded by every Tom, Dick and Harry, and songs that lent themselves to the makeup of the band.”
And what a band. While her last recording featured New York musicians (including brother Dick Oatts), Sue embraced local talent this time out, with congas the only percussion and no horns. “The musicians on this CD are topnotch. I work with Tanner a little more than the others but...we all hook up occasionally. To me, the chemistry they achieved on this project was amazing. Gary Raynor , whose such a warm, sensitive player, brought some Prairie Home Companion with him; Kent Saunders, whose been on all my CDs, is like a rock when it comes to rhythm guitar; Luis Santiago brought that real ‘south of the border’ feel to the Latin tunes; and Tanner Taylor is a force to be reckoned with...incredible sensitivity and chops from such a young player.” In fact, the collaboration between Taylor and Tucker goes back to Iowa, where Tanner’s dad was a classmate of Sue’s; Tanner was a student of Jack Oatts and, as a teenager in the 90s, often played on gigs with Sue and her family. Back Home is thus a suitable title on multiple levels.
Projecting plenty of charm and casual energy, Back Home overall is an upbeat album with the relaxed, small-town ambience of “back home.” The musicians exhibit a warm, hand-in-glove rapport, and everyone gets a chance to shine. Adding to the listener’s enjoyment is a well-sequenced playlist of not-too-familiar standards, with slower tunes interspersed among the up-tempo tracks—it never bogs down in part due to the relatively short takes (all tracks between 3 and 4 _ minutes), with mostly brief solos from instrumentalists.
A frequent comment from reviewers who encounter Sue Tucker is that she can really swing a lyric. And indeed, she gives each word her imprint, the lyric as essential as the melody. While easily defined as a “traditional” or “straight-ahead” stylist, Sue brings a jazz sensibility, her individual interpretation, to every song, presenting melodies as if still playing her sax—musically adding another horn to the arrangement. There’s a judicious use of scat, primarily on the closing chorus of several tunes, while otherwise all vocal communication depends on nuances in inflection and phrasing in a mode perfected by such songbirds as Julie London and Anita O’Day. But above all, Sue –and the band—swings, at any tempo.
The set opens with the Ellington/Strayhorn delight, “Just a Sittin’ and a Rockin’.” At a strolling tempo, Sue has a playful, almost sassy lilt to her voice, and Taylor adopts a similar tone in his solo, while bass and guitar provide a steady pulse throughout. A very swinging “Will You Still Be Mine” (Adair/Dennis) follows, with a particularly propulsive rhythm section highlighted by Gary Raynor’s zippy bass solo. Perhaps the instrumental masterpiece of the set, though, is Lullabye in Rhythm,” a samba-infused arrangement blessed by Kent Saunders’ guitar, Raynor’s bass and Luis Santiago’s congas. Taylor is at his lyrical best with crystalline lines and a confident right hand and Saunders offers a perfect “lullabye.”
From the final “sleep, goodnight” of the previous track, Sue moves the band into another Ellington and Strayhorn classic, “Day Dream.” With a bowed bass solo introducing the tune, Sue leads at a luxurious pace, holding long onto the last note, a reverie that conjures the fading tone of a horn. Benny Golson’s “Whisper Not” is too seldom sung, but Sue makes the lyrics as important as the familiar melody. A tour de force for Tanner Taylor, he ups the ante with his chord sequences and two-handed attack on the theme. Gary Raynor similarly gets a workout where his fleet-fingered lines cover the big box before the band passes the baton back to the leader, who closes with one of her few lines of scat.
“When Lights Are Low” brings back a bit of Brazil, led by Saunders’ guitar. Here, Taylor sometimes fills in where a drumkit might otherwise venture. Raynor’s bowed solo proves that he too can play the role of a deep-throated horn, and Sue takes it out with some scatted phrases. “Exactly Like You” starts as a bass solo and then evolves into a duet with Sue Tucker, while guitar and piano hang back in subtle support. Taylor jumps in with some splendid right/left tandem lines, followed by Saunders. The out chorus reprises the opening, with just voice and bass.
Sue slows it down with “That Old Feeling,” her sweetly elongated phrases evoking “that old yearning” like a love letter to an old flame. This arrangement is very danceable thanks to the slow swing of the rhythm section. The Robin/Styne “Bye Bye Baby” shifts the mood from sweet and slow to sassy and bright, and features a driving solo from Saunders, mirrored by Taylor. Returning again to the flavors of Rio, “Beautiful Love” is driven by conguero Luis Santiago; Taylor proves to be as at home with Latin as with swing and bop, and Tucker is at her most beguiling.
“Under a Blanket of Blue” is marked by a slower than usual tempo with a hot club swing feel, starting off as a piano/vocal duet before guitar and bass join in on the second verse. Kent Saunders shows his lyrical chops as the meandering arrangement slides along, and Sue’s phrases exude a joyful charm. The upbeat arrangement of the Gershwin brothers’ “Soon” gives each musician ample opportunity to swing without restraint, while the finale “Why Did I Choose You?” is an elegant balladic duet. Tanner Taylor explores the tune’s melodic possibilities with a magical touch, while Sue gives her most passionate reading of the set, pushing her vowels into the air, “lovingly and willingly” – a very sweet ending.
The full cast will be on hand this weekend to celebrate the magic of their collaboration on Back Home. It’s not cutting edge, it’s not pushing the envelope or redefining the jazz idiom. Rather, Sue Tucker’s new recording is more simply a joyous meeting of talented musicians taking classic material for a swinging—and sometimes downright elegant—ride.
Jazz Police/Andrea Canter
'Back Home" is an excellent release for your personal collection... masterfully produced and Tucker at her best...
Last seen paying tribute to Rosie Clooney, local singer Sue Tucker has a new album of easygoing, swinging standards, "Back Home." Her original home was Iowa, but don't expect anything more bucolic than the Tin Pan Alley favorite "Under a Blanket of Blue." She gets great support from Iowa piano phenom Tanner Taylor and "Prairie Home Companion" bassist Gary Raynor.
Tom Surowitz/Star Tribune