Personnel: Tierney Sutton (vocals); Serge Merlaud (acoustic guitar, electric guitar); Kevin Axt (acoustic bass, bass guitar).
Audio Mixer: Jean Taxis.
Recording information: Studio Val D'Orge, Epinay Sur Orge, France (12/10/2012/12/11/2012).
One need listen no further than "You Must Believe in Spring," the opening track of Tierney Sutton's Paris Sessions, to grasp that something quite special is taking place between the musicians. This collection of standards and originals recorded in duos and trios between the singer, guitarist Serge Merlaud, and bassist Kevin Axt is a bare-bones journey into the depths of musical intimacy. Recorded over two days at Val d'Orge Studio, these 12 tunes are the product of minimal rehearsal on the day before recording. The arrangements, such as they are, are simple, transparent; the considerable depth comes from the well of the song allowing itself to be expressed so nakedly. The aforementioned cut is a duet, with Merlaud's nylon-string acoustic guitar introducing it. When Sutton enters, the emotional frame is already in place; she fills it with commitment and hope derived from earned wisdom, not wishful thinking. It's a striking contrast to the dusky wordless vocals she provides to the guitarist's own tunes, including "Asma," where Axt's bass bridges the center as singer and guitarist engage in an ethereal and sensual dialogue. Of the other standards here, "Beija-Flor" by Nelson Cavaquinho and Noel Silva is introduced by a long wordless duet with the guitar before Axt enters on an acoustic bass guitar and coaxes surprising harmonic nuances from the familiar bossa nova. The other bossa here, Bruno Martino's "Estate," is perhaps more conventional in articulation, but Sutton sinks so deeply into the grain of the lyric that she owns its emotional expression. Merlaud uses an electric guitar on "Body and Soul," reflecting the multi-harmonic influence of Jim Hall. Sutton draws out the words slowly, purposefully, each syllable infused with a generosity absent of artifice or affect. She's sung this song many times before, but not like this. The resonance in "Don't Worry 'Bout Me" is dialogic. Merlaud's electric guitar doesn't merely comp and fill, but is the other equal voice in a difficult conversation. Axt enters with gorgeous chord voicings providing an equanimity that illustrates the emotional dimension shared between the conversants. Sutton's delivery is even, but far from detached. It affirms the beloved even as a glimpse of romantic pain is betrayed by the ends of her lines. Two of these cuts, "Don't Go to Strangers" and "Answer Me, My Love," will be familiar; they were recorded for and appeared on After Blue, but they fit this context just as well. Paris Sessions is a gem, so elegant, sparse, and intimate in its directness that it is as arresting as it is lovely. ~ Thom Jurek