March 14, 2010

Dianne Reeves in Concert - Sheer Brilliance

When You KnowIf you haven’t heard Dianne Reeves live, you owe it to yourself to seek out one of her tour dates. You will get to hear one of the great jazz vocalists of our time. I had the chance to see her for the first time in San Francisco two nights ago as part of the SFJAZZ Festival and everything she touched turned to sonic gold.
     The concert, with Reeves backed by a quartet, included pop songs, blues, jazz, and world music. This is one of the common criticisms of Reeves - that she’s all over the vocal map – and I tend to fall into this camp as well. I would have liked to hear her take on more straight-ahead jazz. But I feel a bit miserly for thinking this because her musicality in all these genres is of the highest level. You can’t have too much of a good thing - really.
     The concert started with a couple of love songs from her latest album, When You Know. But the proceedings really took off when Dianne got to “Be My Husband,” a tune made famous by pop diva Nina Simone, a singer that she clearly has an affinity for. In fact, Reeves recently did some tour dates in Hong Kong and Australia in a tribute show to Nina. Reeves began by playing her voice like an instrument: not scat singing per se but rather a complex and extended rhythmic solo of astonishing versatility. This morphed into the sonic blast of “Be My Husband,” an anthemic song showing that she’s got the chops dynamically as well. Reeves also performed Simone’s “Do I Move You?” later in the show.
     The second set opened with Reeves and guitarist Romero Lubambo doing a lovely Brazilian-tinged version of “Our Love is Here to Stay.” This was the song that made me wish for more jazz standards from her. Her voice moves with a facility and playfulness that recalls the best of Sarah Vaughan. Reeves did perform a favorite of mine -  “One For My Baby” from her Grammy-winning effort in George Clooney’s 2005 film Good Night, and Good Luck. But the highlight of the second half was a down home blues called “Today Will Be a Good Day,” composed by Reeves in honor of her mother. “Down home” in Reeves’ case was Denver, Colorado, and this is a rollicking good tune. (There’s a terrific version of Reeves doing this song on YouTube.)
     Reeves has been among the elite jazz singers for over twenty years now, and she still brings an immense sense of joy and sheer brilliance to her live performances. She once said of Nina Simone: “The thing I love about her spirit is there was no part of her self that she didn’t access.” It’s clear that Reeves also pours it all out in concert. Don’t miss her on tour if you get the chance.

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