February 13, 2008
by Tom Pierce
The term Diva has been applied to many well known female vocalists of diverse genres, with various interesting connotations - some positive and some not so positive. The Egg's presentation of the remarkable Dianne Reeves, with an exceptional quartet, provided Capitol District music lovers with one Diva whom the near capacity audience clearly regarded as enormously positive.
Perhaps the most substantial attribute of Ms Reeves on display was her extraordinary vocal instrument. She showcased a peerlessly rich contralto, with a shimmering bright tone, supported by powerful breath control. Her extensive range enabled her to effortlessly glide up and down the musical spectrum, with flawless intonation and lilting feeling. Despite the powerful strength of her voice, she eschewed any heavy-handed, over dramatic projection, either during a song or in her endings. Rather than screaming bombast and stretched note melisma, there was a supple lightness and simplicity that was consistently appealing.
This uniquely gifted 51 year old Denver-raised songstress has had a widely acclaimed recording career of over 30 years. This encompasses almost 20 CD's under her own name and over two dozen as guest artist on recordings by many of the most respected musicians world wide.
Some observers, while marveling over her vocal quality, pulsating swing and distinctiveness, have wished she would concentrate even more on Jazz-oriented material. Up until 2000, most of her releases (except the superb 1996 The Grand Encounter) reflected an eclectic approach that often also featured R&B, Pop, Brazilian and World/African music, which she interpreted with great facility and charm.
But starting with her 2000 live recording, In the Moment, followed by her 2001 tribute to Sarah Vaughan, The Calling, the 2003 A Little Moonlight and the 2005 Good Night, and Good Luck soundtrack she apparently decided to take those suggestions to heart; and these four albums (all of which won Grammy awards for Best Jazz Vocal Performance) were almost exclusively based on Jazz and the Great American Songbook.
However, in live performances she continued to treat audiences to the wide range of musical genres she's always had an affinity for. Her opening number at the Egg was a lush, medium tempo version of the melancholy Antonio Carlos Jobim classic, Triste (Sad). Later, her buoyantly smooth treatment of the Temptations' 1971 R&B hit, Just My Imagination demonstrated her ability to elevate simpler material to another level. It also served as the backdrop for a humorously engaging rap about running into an old High School flame many years later, only to discover his current sexual preference ruled out any chance of her re-kindling a would-be romance.
A particularly enthralling ballad was her wonderfully relaxed interpretation of the gorgeous Cy Coleman composition, I'm in Love Again, that moved this listener almost as much as first hearing Tony Bennett's exhilarating version on his 1995 CD Here's to the Ladies. Another expressively delivered ballad was Over the Weekend that she graciously acknowledged as being inspired by earlier versions by Nancy Wilson and Mabel Mercer. This tune was arranged very effectively, so that the four instruments sounded like a full orchestra.
This particular effect and her ability to present different genres so well was aided by the flexibility and quality of the four fine musicians involved; as well as the fact that the keyboards (Geoffrey Keezer), guitar (Romero Lubambo) and bass (Reginald Veal) were both acoustic and electronic; and the drummer (Greg Hutchinson) was extremely dynamic, but also very sensitive.
Another especially pleasing aspect to the evening even for fans possessing many of her recordings, was Ms Reeves' inclusion of a number of beautiful songs not on any of her CD's up to this point. These included a 1959 Gigi Gryce/Jon Hendricks gem, Social Call ; and the haunting Midnight Sun, composed in 1947 by J Francis Burke with lyrics by Johnny mercer, that's been done so well by Sarah Vaughan and Carmen McRae, among others.
In addition to these details on the essential musical substance of her performance, a review would be incomplete without commenting on how Ms Reeves carried and conducted herself. One first notices her statuesquely regal attractiveness, with a radiant smile that lit up the venue. Her overall presence on stage was commanding, but in a naturally warm, delightful manner, without the haughtiness and condescension sometimes associated with artists who loom larger than life.
We were given an insight into a likely source of her being so positively grounded and well adjusted, with a frequent saying she attributed to her 83 year old, very active and independent Mother - I don't entertain illness, boredom or depression. I may get them sometimes; but I don't entertain them.
This is an artist clearly at ease with herself and comfortable with the audience, to whom she expressed genuine thanks and enjoyment, and to the Egg , which she described as a big living room . She concluded the heavily applauded 90 minute set (which seemed like half that time), by wishing the audience happy and meaningful endings to all THEIR stories; and encouraged them all to TELL their stories, because they are important for their families, their communities and their nation. Words to live by.
Tom Pierce has had a burning passion for Jazz for over 45 years, initiated and fueled by seeing live in New York City, starting in the early 1960's, virtually every major artist still performing. He's been very happily living in Guilderland the last 5 years, as an active retiree sharing his love of music by writing online reviews for a number of web sites, preparing DVD presentations to various groups, co-Hosting Radio programs showcasing his favorite artists and busily supporting A Place for Jazz and the SwingTime Society in a variety of ways.