There is a reason why The New York Times calls her “the most admired jazz diva since the heyday of Sarah Vaughan, Ella Fitzgerald and Billie Holiday.” Dianne Reeves really is just that good.
Those lucky enough to hear the five-time Grammy award winner were treated to a night of jazz classics and jazz retakes on contemporary songs. The concert began with her skilled quartet — Romero Lubambo on guitar, Peter Martin on piano, Reginald Veal on bass and Terreno Gully on drums, playing a mostly improvised jam which set up the lively, smooth, ambient sound that would continue throughout the night.
The first song they played was Fleetwood Mac’s “Dreams” — yes, the players-only-love-you when-they’re-playing “Dreams.” If you haven’t heard Dianne Reeves’s rendition of it yet, what are you waiting for? However, in my opinion, it was 10 times better live. For starters, the band started instrument-by-instrument, layering on the musical lines so that you felt as if you were hearing a painting being created in front of you. Then Reeves came in with an entrance fit for the diva that she is, belting out the lyrics in her powerful yet effortless manner. The crowd — initially subdued and somewhat shy — was already falling under her spell.
Before the show began, the audience was introduced to them as Dianne Reeves and her quartet. But I think that a more accurate description would have been that of a quintet due to the way that Reeves uses her voice as an instrument on its own. Often foregoing lyrics for her trademark scatting, she breathed in new life into classics and bent contemporary melodies into new, beautiful jazz renditions.
One of the highlights of the show was when she sang her 1993 song, “Nine.” Not only is this song beautiful on its own — with its delicate melody and fast-paced phrasing — but also her introduction was heartwarming, funny and really buttered up the crowd. Reeves described how she chose the number nine, as it’s “the last age where you are only one number” and then it keeps on appearing at important times in your life. This can be either when you’re 19 and excited to move onto your 20s, or 49 and feeling like “you got this.” Although it sounds cheesy now that I’m saying it, Reeves filled the room with chuckles and her personality made the lyrics even more touching.
I think that the show really hit its stride after the intermission. Even though it was already late in the night, the audience was ready to have more fun. One of the best parts was Reeves' “tour” of the ensemble, where she demonstrated her class and technical skill by introducing each member, describing how they met and their talent, all while improvising her way all over the musical scale. For example, she described how she and Romero — her “brother from another mother” — met while singing in Rio. She then went on to assemble a party the likes of those in Rio by singing and beckoning the other players on stage. The following songs definitely had a hint of Latin fusion, and had the audience busting a move or two.
Towards the end of the concert was the final highlight of the night. Putting her light up in the air, she sang a transcending version of Mali Music’s “Beautiful.” Bittersweet in the current political context, Reeves managed to convince the initially timid sold-out crowd to wave their iPhone “lighters” in the air and playfully copy her riffs in a musical version of Simon-Says. She ended the song with the words “one note, one voice, one people, one world, one love” and I, along with the rest, was all caught up in the emotions of a truly stunning concert.