Since popping into our collective jazz consciousness as a semifinalist in the Thelonious Monk Jazz Vocal Competition in 1998 and signing with Telarc Jazz a few years later, the versatile stylist Sutton Tierney has carved a unique career around theme-centered recordings -- most notably with Unsung Heroes (featuring sung renditions of songs normally done as instrumentals) and Blue in Green (a tribute record to Bill Evans). Her creativity with tempo, song selection, and witty modulations is at full-throttle on her fifth disc for the label, I'm with the Band, an hour-long set recorded live at Birdland in March 2005. Though she's clearly the star and her ensemble is always in her service, the album title and cover photo beautifully illustrate the mutual love she and her brilliant bandmates have shared for ten years. Each tune has space for Tierney to shine and improvise over simple harmonic and rhythmic support before she lets them break free. On the opening track, "Softly, As in a Morning Sunrise," she swings via words and scat over pianist Christian Jacob's alternately dark and light chordings, and drummer Ray Brinker's brisk brushes; then Jacob rolls with a feisty solo as Brinker and bassists Kevin Axt and Trey Henry groove behind him. "Let's Face the Music and Dance" features their very gentle support behind her restrained and thoughtful reflections, while Tierney and her rhythm section render "'S Wonderful" with a wistful wink. Tierney has her moments of gentle and poignant romance ("If I Loved You"), but is clearly having the most fun when she's moving at a faster tempo, alternating words and scat so effortlessly and seamlessly that you don't realize she's shifting back and forth. This disc is live jazz at its best and is destined to be a classic.
AllMusic Review by Jonathan Widran