The ostensible objective of Dianne Reeves' appearance at the Southern Theaterand of her current touris the promotion of her new album, The Calling.
The CD pays tribute to the voice that led Reeves to pursue her own career and which never failed to provide new discoveries for her: Sarah Vaughan's. However, along the way, Reeves has developed into a leading jazz singer who enthralls audiences with her own personality and style. Such was the case at the Southern Theater, where she appeared in the approximate middle of her tour.
Even though Reeves possesses a natural range and timbre like Vaughan's, her optimistic attitude and uncompromising dedication to truth place her in a personalized category all her own.
Now, I've play In The Moment and Bridges until the CD's skip. And I fully expected her to sing some tunes from those albums, and others. But the moment that Dianne Reeves walked on stage, started singing "Morning Has Broken" and improvised the encouragement to "clap your hands or say amen" (just as she does on In The Moment), an irresistible wave washed over the audience. The thrill of the moment and the collective receptiveness captured the audience'snot just attentionbut souls. That's no exaggeration. Reeves' performance, showcasing a distinctive voice whose strength can't be reproduced on CD, unified the audience with emotional electricity.
By the time she sang a testament to the strength, selflessness and artistry of womanhood, Endangered Species, the audience was roaring and clapping with their hands above their heads. Seeming to know she had to calm them down, Reeves sat on her stool and sang Joni Mitchell's "River," luxuriating in the adulation.
How did I know she was adored? Well, every time she announced a number, the audience murmured in knowledge and appreciation. And before the intermission, they vocally gave approval as Reeves told them she would sing about "Grandma" in the second half. ...And I thought I was the only person who enjoyed the humor and accuracy of description of "The Best Times."
After singing her distinctive arrangement of "Yesterdays," Reeves finally introduced a song from The Calling, "Lullaby Of Birdland." After explaining the Reeves recorded the tune with Clifford Brown, she told a story of how Vaughan's inspiration led her to end literal high-school Bach singing with a blues reference. Sure enough, she worked some of Bach's phrases into the tune. With Venezuelan pianist Otmaro Ruiz backing her, Reeves glided into "Embraceable You" from the same album, captivating the audience at the same time she improvised on the melody, as did Vaughan.
Reeves left the album's 35-piece orchestra in L.A. and instead was accompanied by "my band" of Ruiz, Reginald Veal on bass, Gregory Hutchinson on drums and Munyungo Jackson on percussion. While the band excluded the stringed lushness of the back-up on the album, it established a percussive excitement that arose from the interactivity among all five people on the stage.
Reeves' version of "Mood Indigo" started with a bluesy bass solo that inspired audible "mmm's" and "oh yeses" before Reeves joined in to underplay the melody. One by one, the other members of the band came back to rejoin her until the song developed into a long crescendo capped by trumpeter Marlon Jordan's growling solo. It was revealed that Veal is an excellent vocalist as well; he sang harmony with feeling on some of the tunes.
Near the end of the show, percussionist Jackson shone on his own number involving congas, timbales, cymbals and bongos as Hutchinson and he tried to anticipate the other's work. The challenge and the play involved in the interactivity ended with everyone on stage breaking into laughter, perhaps as relief from the intensity of the performance.
After Reeves sang "Fascinatin' Rhythm" from The Calling, sure enough, she ended the concert with her story put to music about "Grandma" getting Reeves ready for bed on Saturday night when she was a child.
It seemed that Reeves and her band sincerely were done after that number. They didn't go through the usual routine of leaving the stage, waiting in the wings and then triumphantly re-entering for the encore. Instead, the audience was roaring, and not one person in the audience left for the parking lot. They demanded, instead of "requested," an encore.
Reeves sang "Misty." She explained that it is one of her favorite songs that Vaughan sang, but one that she didn't include on The Calling (although it appears as part of a medley with "The Nearness Of You" on I Remember.) The audience finally was satisfied. Reeves left the stage again, smiling broadly and resplendent in his ankle-length leather skirt and fringed shawl.
She promised to return to Columbus. However, the next time, she will have to perform in a theater bigger than The Southern.
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