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Dianne Reeves Quartet: Philadelphia, PA, December 1, 2012

Lewis J Whittington By

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Dianne Reeves Quartet
Annenberg Center
Philadelphia, PA
December 1, 2012

Even though jazz vocalist Dianne Reeves grew up in Denver, judging by the reception she gets in Philly it could easily be her adopted hometown crowd. Reeves was back for a single tour date in support of two new recordings, and warmly recalled her first date in Philly at the Chestnut Cabaret in the '80s, saying that she still remembered how crowded it was and the great time she had as a performer.

Now, almost in an artistic realm of her own, but here for what was advertised as a holiday tune show, this was so much more. Reeves and her quartet delved into multi-genre jazz, with an ever-impressive focus on Afro-Caribbean idioms.

The set opened with pianist Vince Guaraldi's "Christmas Time is Here," pianist Peter Martin's fine, extended arrangement framing Reeve's range and seemingly limitless tonal accents. Reeves proved, without doubt, that she has one of the best passagios in jazz and standards singing, demonstrating her ability to use range in a non-decorative way. It was about the song, vocal control, and immediacy with her fellow musicians, led by Martin's driving elegance, Reginald Veal's deeply bowed bass, the blue flame drive of percussionist Terreon Gully and flamenco dexterity of guitarist Romero Lubambo.

Reeves is not only a standards master; her interpretative instincts and skills push the art form in a substantive way. What she did with a ghostly bit of nostalgia like "Twelfth of Never" was astounding. Singing Thad Jones' "A Child Is Born" as an appropriate Christmas song., the quartet's arrangement sounded like a full, Nelson Riddle-style orchestra against her full- throated vocals, while a crisp tempo gave "Let It Snow" the exact amount of frost.

The singer's idol has always been Sarah Vaughan, and Reeves told a great story about meeting the Divine One backstage at a tribute to saxophonist Julian "Cannonball" Adderley. She noted that Vaughan's signature was not singing a song, or even a phrase, the same way twice. Reeves invoked Vaughan on "Misty," holding a few deep basso notes, in homage; Impressive, but ultimately Reeves and the band wanted this to be too many things. But, even with that, vocally, Reeves really slayed.

Reeves also demonstrated, on several vocalese and tamped-down scat intros, just how much her vocal instrument was a part of the band. On one unnamed tango-sounding number that just kept getting hotter and hotter, Reeves eventually sang an explanation that, while in a hotel room in Barcelona, she heard this singer on the TV that was so electric it didn't matter that she didn't understand the words and was, nonetheless, inspired by the song being sung.

The number that brought the house down was one the audience clearly remembered from the cabaret days, called "Better Days" but also known as the "Grandma Song," an unabashed sentimental journey, with Reeves unleashing a very a heartfelt vocal reserve.

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