The Teirney Sutton Band
Left - Tierney Sutton. Photo - Nick Pitsas

The Melbourne Recital Centre's double bill Jazz Festival show features two spiritually similar acts with vastly different implementations and style.

First up were American vocalist Tierney Sutton and her band - a pianist, upright electric bassist, and drummer. Right from the beginning as the band played an instrumental, it was obvious that their 16 years playing together has worked wonders to merge their individual talents to one cohesive wondrous sound. I can only describe Christian Jacob's piano work as classy as he sprinkled arpeggios over some smooth bass work and pattering drums. Perhaps unsurprisingly, it was Tierney herself that elevated this smooth, often beautifully subdued jazz ensemble to a higher plain.

Tierney has absolute control over her vocals, and she uses her talent to float above the music with hypnotic power. She often employs strange harmonic choices and manages to induce the audience into a trance as her voice dances and completes the band's sound. A particularly haunting example of this is her enchanting rendition of Miles Davis' Blue in Green. While much of the show was stunningly restrained, towards the end they played through an uplifting version of Cole Porter's standard I Get A Kick Out Of You. The Tierney Sutton Band has experience and outstanding talent on their side and this shone through in their performance on the night.

A strong candidate for new jazz royalty, West African guitarist Lionel Loueke had the guitarist in me curious and with rather high expectations. Fortunately it took roughly 15 seconds from the moment he started finger picking his hollow body nylon string guitar for me to be jaw-droppingly impressed. Accompanied by the other two thirds of his trio, a bassist and drummer, Loueke demonstrates both a mastery of the guitar and original style. Loueke combines traditional, lightning fast finger fretwork with simple but innovative enhancements such as low-tuned strings, rhythmic muting and a simple piece of paper lodged in the strings at the picking side in order to achieve the more sharp acoustic tones of African music. His guitar work isn't the only indicator of African origins: Loueke occasionally sings African-inspired vocals through cutting-edge digital processing in order to layer copies of his voice, creating his own virtual chorus. With so many tricks, it's all very impressive to observe.

As for the music itself, it's all pretty perky yet free flowing. Massimo Biolcati, bassist and Ferenc Nemethm, drummer, jam along, clearly having the time of their lives while Loueke dances across the strings and fills the space with his layered vocal chorus trick. The music rushes from one section to the next, mixing time signatures and tones with seamless transition. There were also quite a few laughs as a relaxed Loueke bantered with the crowd and his own band mates. Perhaps what impressed me most is Loueke's obvious drive to innovate. It's particularly refreshing creativity, and I feel this is the edge that will serve this talented trio well in years to come. Anyone interested in jazz's future should see the Lionel Loueke Trio and witness raw talent and groundbreaking innovation with a distinctly African vibe.

Presented in association with PBS and the Melbourne Recital Centre
Double Bill: Lionel Loueke Trio and The Tierney Sutton Band

Venue: Melbourne Recital Centre
Date/Time: Sun 2 May at 6pm
Tickets: $59 - $44

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