Aesthetically Speaking

Singer Dianne Reeves replenished vocal Jazz idiom

Jazz vocalists worth listening to are pretty hard to come by. And, for this reviewer, it’s something worth shouting about to run across a gifted female singer: they have a siren-like quality that is,… Jazz vocalists worth listening to are pretty hard to come by. And, for this reviewer, it’s something worth shouting about to run across a gifted female singer: they have a siren-like quality that is, so to speak, completely bewitching. As such, it was a joy writing about Charmin Michelle, ages ago, when I heard her on the KFAI program “Act of Imani”. She had the magic, that certain something that makes you think about Billie Holiday, Dinah Washington and other greats from days long gone. Regrettably, her artistry has lapsed, leaving one to listen to her early recordings and hope she someday regains her form. It isn’t that she ever forgot how to sing, but that true chops go beyond mere technical ability: a computer can be programmed to reproduce notes a la Ginger Commodore, Debbie Duncan and even the laughably pretentious Connie Evingson. As a result, I rarely go to clubs anymore and basically sift through whatever latest releases record companies send in the mail, hoping to happen across a lucky find.

Sometimes it isn’t worth the trouble it took to open the mail. And, then, sometimes you wind up with something wonderful. Something like veteran Dianne Reeves’ newest, A Little Moonlight on the historic Blue Note label. Superior skill expressing soul-deep feeling. That’s what it’s about. Reeves flawlessly proves the point. But, then, she always has. A listen to last year’s career-spanning compilation The Best of Dianne Reeves should tell you that. There’s also her having accomplished the enviable feat of winning consecutive Grammy Awards with In The Moment: Live In Concert in 2001 and The Calling: Celebrating Sarah Vaughn. Reeves performed at the closing ceremony of the 2002 Winter Olympic Games in Salt Lake City, sang on the season finale of the runaway hit series Sex In The City (HBO) and walked off with the Ella Fitzgerald Award at the Montreal International Jazz Festival. Noted critic A. Scott Galloway extols, “Dianne Reeves is jazz’s replenishing empress. With her solar-powered contralto, expansive range, impeccable pitch and evocative writings, she has returned [the genre] to mother nature, reconnecting it to its earthen roots.”

A Little Moonlight, industry legend Arif Mardin, who crafted countless recordings at the peak of Atlantic Records’ success, was called to serve as producer. Mardin, who copped the 2003 “Producer of the Year” Grammy for Norah Jones’ Come Away With Me, says of Reeves, “At times, she is like a diver springing off the board jumping and hanging in the air, then rising even further while achieving one more perfectly executed twist.” He and Reeves inarguably are a winning combination. As he has done over the decades, Mardin provides a lens through which the artist brilliantly shines. “I Concentrate On You” with Romero Lubambo on intricate guitar, is a jewel of a performance; Reeves’ wistful turn showcased to sheer perfection.

If you’ve ever wondered just where Sergio Mendes was trying to go with Lani Hall, this is it. The classic “Skylark” delivered by this chanteuse, is pure, stark poetry, sweetly graced by expert phrasing. Peter Martin’s piano solo, cascading over the locked pocket of Ruben Rogers (bass) and Gregory Hutchinson (drums) afford haunting accompaniment. Everybody has a ball on “What A Little Moonlight Can Do”. It starts out with Hutchinson rattling a muted frenzy beneath a playful Reeves. As she signals the transition with judicious scatting, Rogers falls in, pushing the beat while Martin chords a casual backdrop. Next thing you know, the whole ensemble breaks out of the gate, the boys in the band airing out their chops while Reeves does some of the tastiest scatting imaginable. From there, they all just keep shifting into higher and higher gear before closing with a laid back vamp. “Darn That Dream” is a wonderfully executed ballad, tailor made for those middle of the night moments when you’re at the window,

July 7, 2003
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