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Rad Bennett of SoundStage!Xperience Reviews “Notes from the Frontier”

Rad Bennett | SoundStage!Xperience: “In Sutton’s world everything is not always as it seems on paper, but it’s exactly right when heard … if you want to know how deep and how far afield jazz goes, listen to Notes from the Frontier.”

The beginning of Jacqui Sutton’s second album starts with disjointed cello chords as other instruments join in with jagged attacks. What is this, the beginning of some newly discovered work by Béla Bartók? Then Jacqui’s voice, rich as honey and smooth as silk, enters with the familiar tones of “Summertime,” and suddenly we’re in Gershwinland, even though the dissonant staccato notes persist underneath the familiar tune.
That sort of reinvention should come as no surprise if you’re familiar with Sutton’s first album, Billie & Dolly, a tribute to her favorite singers, Billie Holiday and Dolly Parton. That set, like this one, mashes up jazz, bluegrass, blues, pop, and even a little soul and classical. Artists who come up with a new style that works well for them are to be commended, but it keeps music critics hopping, trying to figure out what to call it. In this case Sutton has saved the day by naming it herself. She calls it “frontier jazz,” and her unusual and very talented backup band is called the Frontier Jazz Orchestra. Orchestra? Relax, the only strings in the six-member ensemble are cello and bass. In Sutton’s world everything is not always as it seems on paper, but it’s exactly right when heard.
After “Summertime,” Sutton launches Lee Hoiby’s “Lady of the Harbor” as an American anthem, revealing that America is at the heart of her style. What is American music? Well, jazz. But if you want to know how deep and how far afield jazz goes, listen to Notes from the Frontier. In this piece and in one other, Sutton uses some operatic chops to float some pretty sensational high notes. But hey, Sutton has a great voice with tremendous range and power, so she can pull off anything she desires.
Next, Sutton mixes the bluegrass tune “Hummingbird” with Dave Brubeck’s “Blue Rondo a la Turk.” She then moves on to “Jenny Rebecca,” a sweet song that Barbra Streisand sang in her earlier days. Other songs include “Nature Boy,” “Dear Friend” (yes, multitalented Sutton does musical theater, too, but with a special twist!), and “Where the Music Comes From” (Another Lee Hoiby concert song), closing with “Better Than Anything,” the second verse of which gives Sutton a chance to reel off a long list of jazz greats.
Sutton and her musicians are based in Houston, and this disc proves not only that Texas has great musicians but also that Stormy Cooper Media is a first-rate studio for recording and mixing. The sound is full and rich, due in part to the combination of cello and electric bass. The guitar and banjo tracks feel slightly spotlighted, but not obnoxiously so, and since the players in Sutton’s band are all so good, they benefit from slight prominence in the mix.
Jacqui Sutton moved to Texas and surrounded herself with superb musicians, and under her guidance they have created frontier jazz. Sutton’s next album will contain all original tunes, and it’s going to be titled American Anthem. I’ll certainly be looking forward to it, and after you hear Notes from the Frontier: A Musical Journey, it’s a pretty sure bet that you will too.
Be sure to listen to: It’s partly because I have always liked the song, but I feel that “Nature Boy” is one of the best cuts on the disc. After a cello opening that seems a bit Far Eastern, the musicians settle into a tango groove, and Sutton’s sultry singing is in Spanish. The central portion features cello and guitar solos (and superb trumpet backup), and the final verse is in English with some ornamentation and a final flourish in Sutton’s opera voice. In any language it’s a tour de force.

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D. Oscar Groomes of O’s Place Jazz Magazine Reviews “Notes from the Frontier”

D. Oscar Groomes | O’s Place Jazz Magazine: “How many possible arrangements of “Summertime” can there possibly be? Sutton answers with her sultry heartfelt version to open the set with support from Paul Chester (banjo), Anthony Sapp (b) and Max Dyer (cello).”

How many possible arrangements of “Summertime” can there possibly be? Sutton answers with her sultry heartfelt version to open the set with support from Paul Chester (banjo), Anthony Sapp (b) and Max Dyer (cello). That sets the tone for a session of richly arranged classics all with a down home southern country twist. Ilya Janos (perc) and Sapp step up on “Freed” before a stirring arrangement of “Nature! Boy” sung in Spanish and English with a tango twist. Jacqui has a wide range and soars on “Hummingbird” while blending into her band. It is not over the top, just warm, soulful and easily embraced.

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Jazz Music’s Review of Notes from the Frontier

C.J. Bond | Jazz Music: “Sutton and her amazing band satisfy, inspire, entertain, and energize over the course of 12 captivating songs … leaving no doubt that this versatile, exciting talent can effectively interpret any lyric she finds on her “Musical Journey.”

Notes From The Frontier – A Musical Journey is really centered on the innovative spirit, creative imagination, and driving force that describe this very accomplished song stylist who has paid more than her share of ‘dues,’ and elicits the exclamation: OMG! She’s good!

Sutton and her amazing band satisfy, inspire, entertain, and energize over the course of 12 captivating songs starting with (Summertime); one of Gershwin’s finest from “Porgy and Bess.” The first song she auditioned as a young singer, and Sutton admits “it was a terrifying experience…” Such an experience is never easily forgotten, however Sutton, with time, has built on it, and now without trepidation, delivers the magnificence in Gershwin’s classical voicings, while the band’s comprehensive instrumentation (piano, cello, bass) earnestly recreates the distinctive Southern jazz feel of the period.

Sutton journeys through two of her symbiotic inner worlds; one personal, the other musical, and elaborates honestly and profoundly on what she finds. Sutton’s intuitive ability to ‘hear’ matches the cutting edge fidelity of her undisturbed, active imagination, as evidenced in the conspicuous contrast (Hummingbird/Blue Rondo a la Turk) between her blended aerial lyric, and the evanescent 9/8 time signature of Brubeck’s 1959 Turkish inspired jazz standard that captures, from Sutton’s inner musical lens, a blue grass image of the winged flight of a hummingbird; then exposed into the varying, non-linear colors of Paul Chester’s guitar, Ilya Janos’ percussion, Anthony Sapps’ electric bass, and Lyndon Hughes/Cindy Scott background vocals. “The most mashed-up song on the CD” (Sutton).

Sutton adds alluring color to her singing style in her “sweet bluesy cry” that was a signature of the late Phoebe Snow (Summertime; Lady of the Harbor; Where the Music Comes From), combined with the band’s eclectic instrumentation, to produce an album rich in shifting hues and moods; Aralee Dorough’s comforting flute, and Max Dyer’s sustaining cello (Jenny Rebecca), as Sutton interprets the simple lyric with the outstretched, sweet promise of hope, joy and love for newborns everywhere. Sutton sings with deep tenderness, and moving sentiment; poignantly reconciling the maternal and artistic impulses that inform her symbiotic inner worlds; the open trumpet of Eddie Lewis painting the outline of a looming, unknown frontier (Freed), while Sutton’s voice cries for that desire for ‘freedom’ lingering deep within the souls of men and women everywhere; Anthony Sapp’s dark, deeply unnerving electric bass work (Weary Angel); and Paul Chester’s ‘blue’ banjo chords, alloyed with the ‘longing and lost’ response from Bob Chadwick’s Irish flute, supporting Sutton over the heartbroken melancholy of (Blue Mountain).

Sutton takes a walk backwards into her life (One and Only) to express some of the pain, hurt, need for forgiveness, and change that accrue to all who find love, lose it, and hope for a second chance. Its and old, lone story told through new emotions. Paul Chester’s guitar, and Eddie Lewis’ flugelhorn drip with deep lament, and pathos, yet Sutton manages to reveal a personal, inner calm, and sense of resolve that turns the song into one of the most moving and emotional of the date.

There are hints of quiet smouldering passion, intrigue, and fascinating versatility lurking in the contiguous edges of Sutton’s inner musical frontiers that surface (Nature Boy) in her effective Spanish/English interpretation of Eden Ahbez’s mysterious 1947 lyric. Sutton seems aware of the classical underpinning of the song’s melodic structure – Antonin Dvorak’s piano quintet #2 in A, Op. 81, and embellishes her ending in the upper pitch range of her robustly endowed classical voice.

Sutton keeps one of her real gems for the finale and shows her cool, hip, jazzy, side, swinging through Bill Loughborough/Dave Wheat’s (Better Than Anything), and leaving no doubt that this versatile, exciting talent can effectively interpret any lyric she finds on her “Musical Journey.”

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All About Jazz Reviews “Notes from the Frontier”

Dan Bilawsky | allaboutjazz.com: “Her aptly named style—Frontier Jazz—is synthesized through the marriage of bluegrass, musical theater, classical influences, jazz and more, but isn’t purely based in any one of those categories; if record stores still existed, they’d have a hell of a time trying to file this one.”

In America’s infancy, exploration and a thirst for discovery were endemic to the human spirit. Over time, no stone went unturned, the world shrunk and people, by and large, became content with what they already knew. Something as simple as a new television program or electronic gadget now quenches the thirst-for-the-unknown that was once unquenchable in the mind of mankind, but true musical spirits aren’t satisfied in this manner; they never stop searching. These musical pioneers explore the cracks and crevices between styles to find something new and meaningful to say, and vocalist Jacqui Sutton belongs to this breed.
Sutton finds the old in the new, the new in the old, and the joy in blurring lines that some refuse to blur. Her debut—Billie & Dolly (Toy Blue Typewriter, 2010)—honed in on two different figures from opposite sides of the fence, honoring Dolly Parton and Billie Holiday in unique fashion. Now, with Notes From The Frontier, she’s broadening her gaze and taking a panoramic look at America.
Her aptly named style—Frontier Jazz—is synthesized through the marriage of bluegrass, musical theater, classical influences, jazz and more, but isn’t purely based in any one of those categories; if record stores still existed, they’d have a hell of a time trying to file this one. A rootsy take on Gershwin’s “Summertime” isn’t Broadway, Appalachia, soul or jazz, but a combination of all four, while “Nature Boy” is Carnegie Hall classicism, Nat King Cole and Argentinean tango rolled into one. “Lady Of The Harbor” cuts to the core of the American spirit, with Emma Lazarus’ famed “New Colossus” lines floating above a heavenly mixture of Irish flute, keyboard, melodion, trombone, cello, bass, percussion, banjo and guitar. An odd patriotic stirring comes to the surface on “Where The Music Comes From,” which is underscored by fife and drum classicism with a modern twist. All of this music speaks to Sutton’s sophisticated tastes and all-seeing eye, but she ultimately sounds best when working in neo-soul-meets-folk mode (“Summertime” and “Weary Angel”) or gentle, countrified environs (“Blue Mountain”). Her true spirit roams free on this material and connects to the heart and mind in myriad ways.
Notes From The Frontier is melting pot music with a heavy emphasis on the heartland, as seen through modernistic eyes. This is music taken from the branches that sprouted from the tree trunk that grew from the roots of the American people.

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Jazz Music’s John Book Reviews “Notes from the Frontier”

John Book | Jazz Music: “These Notes From The Frontier can define any and all frontiers, and whatever the landscape, this is sure to become the soundtrack to many people and their lives. This one is Grammy-worthy …”

Vocalist Jacqui Sutton takes things outdoors, into the trees to find the roots of everything that concerns the human condition in her new album with The Frontier Jazz Orchestra called Notes From The Frontier (Toy Blue Typewriter).
Subtitled A Musical Journey, the music on Notes From The Frontier sounds like someone who simply wants to seek more to experience, and along the way shares stories of what was, what is, and what is hoped to be. Sutton may be classified as jazz, but she also sings with hints of other styles that would make her sound perfect in a soul and blues setting, along with rock. These songs are not just her stories alone, but the tales and words of those she meets up with, their words and perspectives, and simply it’s a timeline that could easily be that of the listener. You hear Sutton and her orchestra get down home and country, and you may imagine yourself in Texas, Georgia, or Alabama. Sutton’s voice is very comforting and after listening to this, I imagined what she would sound like if singing the works of others, perhaps some of my own personal favorites. One may also sense the scents of things imagined, and for me, that shows how well this music works. These Notes From The Frontier can define any and all frontiers, and whatever the landscape, this is sure to become the soundtrack to many people and their lives. This one is Grammy-worthy, and I hope she (or someone representing her) will consider submitting this one.

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Bop-N-Jazz Review

Admittedly I am sometimes not the most open minded person in the world. Both contemporary and straight ahead jazz are currently in flux, artists are reaching out to draw influences from other countries and other musicians previously not associated with any jazz genre to speak of.

While C. Michael Bailey wrote the liner notes and not being remotely close to a fan of the more mainstream jazz media which is for the most part lacking in integrity in every possible form and fashion one can imagine, Jacqui Sutton has managed to pull off the impossible and create perhaps THE critics worst nightmare in terms of a release to review.

Deftly blending a most unique fusion of jazz and bluegrass along with her own personal influences, Sutton has hit upon a sound that will leave most critics scratching their heads and some record executives looking for a length of rope and rickety stool. To slap an arbitrary label on Notes From The Frontier would be like leaving your hat on during the National Anthem. There is something delightfully Americana yet presented in a form and functionality that merges a plethora of influences while never losing the jazz sensibilities that seem to make this release so captivating.

A neo-soul riff on the classic “Summertime?”…well, it works! Sutton then goes deeper into her musical bag of tricks by taking a bluegrass favorite “Hummingbird” and doing an odd metered reharm to pay tribute to the great Dave Brubeck’s “Blue Rondo a la Turk.” The standard “Nature Boy” morphs into a tango…Frontier jazz that can only come from deep in the heart of Texas. As a recovering pseudo-intellectual in the jazz world, every fiber of my being tells me this is not a recording to spend more than five minutes on. However, Sutton’s voice which has the ability to paint a very vivid sonic story board combined with some incredibly inventive arrangements have me coming back for more. Sutton is a sonic time traveler of genre, form and functionality and has found an incredibly diverse musical landscape from which to work.

Jacqui Sutton takes the term “organic” to a whole different level in one of the most artistically creative releases for the year. Granted, I am still scratching my head but when music of this magnitude makes you think then that is a beautiful thing.

Tracks: Summertime; Lady of the Harbor; Hummingbird/Blue Rondo a la Turk; Jenny Rebecca; Freed; One and Only; Nature Boy; Dear Friend; Where the Music Comes From; Weary Angel; Blue Mountain; Better Than Anything.

Personnel: Jacqui Sutton: vocals; Paul Chester: banjo, guitars; Anthony Sapp; basses; Ilya Janos: percussion; Eddie Lewis: trumpet, flugelhorn, piccolo trumpet; Henry Darrah: keyboards, trombone, melodion; Lyndon Hughes: drums, background vocals; Aralee Dorough: flute; Bob Chadwick: irish flute.

Original Article

Posted by brent black at 12:09 AM

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