In jazz as in pop music, there are singers' singers, there are independent stylists and there are audience darlings. Tierney Sutton occasionally dips into all those areas, but she is most accurately described as a musicians' singer -- a vocalist whose most attractive qualities are defined by the standards usually applied to instrumentalists.
Her performance Wednesday in Santa Monica's elegant jazz dining room, the Vic, with pianist Christian Jacob, bassist Trey Henry and drummer Ray Brinker was an impressive display of subtle musicality.
She started by singing a stunning a cappella, Baroque-styled introduction to "What'll I Do." She paired with bassist Henry for galvanizing, back-and-forth improvisational duets. She brought new life to songs from "My Fair Lady" with an imaginatively arranged medley. And she boldly chose to interpret songs associated with Frank Sinatra (as she does on her forthcoming CD, "Dancing in the Dark").
The tall, slender, golden-tressed Sutton made an impressive appearance. But aside from her humorous between-song comments, her performance focused incisively upon what she did musically rather than how she looked. Either singing with eyes closed or staring upward, it was clear that the encounter taking place was between her and the music and not -- as in most pop music -- between her and the audience.
That's a potentially dicey choice for any performer. Although a packed house responded enthusiastically, Sutton's near total immersion in the music carries the clear risk of losing the attention of listeners more favorably inclined to upfront, storytelling singing. And that would be shame, since she is a remarkable talent -- one who fully deserves to prosper on her own inimitable artistic terms.