Monday, November 22, 2010


Congress Center
November 21

Dianne Reeves knows how to put on a show. She radiates warmth and positive energy, chats up the audience, inviting everybody to dance and sing along, and is equally adept with soft, sensitive solos or big-band production numbers. And she’s got a pretty good voice, too.

A shining voice and spirit.
Actually, Reeves has an amazing voice. It’s mellowed a bit, a slightly darker timbre now than earlier in her career. But that’s only made it better, like fine wine come of age. It’s still remarkably pure and clear, polished and silk-smooth without being glossy. And supple. Like the best classical singers, Reeves can take her vocals from a gentle patter of raindrops to the big, dynamic sound needed to front an orchestra.

The program was a tribute to Sarah Vaughan, reprising many of the songs from Reeves’ 2001 release The Calling: Celebrating Sarah Vaughan. But with Latin flavors, fresh arrangements, a nod to Abbey Lincoln and two selections from Reeves’ newest release, When You Know, it had a smart contemporary feel. Reeves told some stories about the inspiration Vaughan provided early in her career, but you didn’t need to know anything about American jazz to appreciate the music, which stood quite well on its own.

That’s partly because Reeves, like Vaughan, doesn’t consider herself a jazz singer. She’s a singer, period, who knows her jazz licks but likes to dip in and out of many different genres. So after opening with “I Remember Sarah,” an upbeat tribute that Reeves wrote with pianist and composer Billy Childs, she segued easily to “Triste,” an Antonio Carlos Jobim number that Vaughan included on her I Love Brazil album. It was bright and breezy, with so much one-syllable scatting that Reeves sounded like she had taken in the Meredith Monk show last week.

Her rendition of “Lullaby of Birdland” was sweet and soulful, but the most inspirational moment of the evening was her very tender interpretation of Abbey Lincoln’s “Bird Alone.” Sarah Vaughan may have provided musical inspiration, but Lincoln was a powerful role model for Reeves. And if last night’s performance was any indication, she is still feeling the loss of Lincoln, who died in August.

Plenty of scat work over the course of the evening gave Reeves a chance to show her range, as she ran through lively vocal interpretations of percussion, strings and horns. “Speak Low” served as a vocal showcase, with Reeves gliding up and down scales and caressing rippling vibrato lines. But her best pure musical effort may have been “One for My Baby (And One More for the Road),” which started as a bass and vocal duet. Could the extra spark have come from George Clooney? Reeves certainly gushed enough about working with him on that and other music for Good Night, and Good Luck.

Big-band arrangements of songs like “Obsession” and “Fascinating Rhythm” highlighted Reeves’ combo – pianist Peter Martin, bassist Reginald Veal and drummer Terreon Gully – along with the Prague Philharmonia, which provided a 50-piece backing orchestra. That was an inspired choice; the Philharmonia is the youngest orchestra in town, with players who are versed in the classical repertoire but still know how to swing. Under the baton of Martin Kumžák, they were tight.

And Reeves showed a lot of class in closing, singing the introductions for the members of her group, as well as the orchestra conductor and concertmaster. It was a generous and entertaining gesture, capped by a high-volume version of “When You Know.” She came back for one encore, “Misty,” pouring out the song like honey.

You made our night, you made our tour,” Reeves told an appreciative audience. “We’re going to be flying home tomorrow on a wonderful high.” Judging from the standing ovation she received, they’re not the only ones flying high today.

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