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On Saturday, April 20, 2002, the audience at the Raymond F. Kravis Center for the Performing Arts, in West Palm Beach, experienced godly jazz enthralled by Dianne Reeves and her stunning tour’s quartet. At the luxurious, spacious, comfortable and acoustically impeccable Alexander W. Dreyfoos, Jr., Concert Hall, Reeves was able to elicit the type of excitement and engagement that some types of jazz can incite. Unfortunately, none of us in attendance decided to go for broke and simply dance and shout while Reeves stirred things up. Perhaps such restraint simply came from the truthfully awe-inspiring performance. Either way, the usually demurred West Palm Beach audience did not stay that way for too long. The evening’s event started just a few minutes late before a hefty audience, albeit not a full house, although the venue barely accommodates more than 2000 patrons. Reeves had some competition that night for the South Florida jazz audiences as Cassandra Wilson was also performing in West Palm Beach and Norman Simmons and the Eric Alexander Quartet were in Fort Lauderdale. Those who did attend Reeve’s concert, saw her quartet enter silently and expeditiously to their respective musical instruments in order to begin a type of jazz interchange that makes you loose track of time. After several bars, which established at the outset that what awaited those in attendance was going to be something extraordinary, Reeves imposing presence gracefully joined her peers singing right off the bat. By the time the first engagement was over, I was done with any journalistic concerns and exclaimed “Wow!” Now things were thoroughly personal as my suspicions proved correct: this night was not going to be special, or even spectacular, it proved to be the salient musical experience in my 43 years of age. Never mind jotting down notes, or the evening’s playlist, which was not included in the somewhat convoluted Playbill, which had more names than a biblical genealogy; this concert was going to be a gem to be enjoyed without a bit of concern about anything or anyone else. You, therefore, must spare me the criticism for not pointing out every single tune or detail about the presentation. Even Arturo Gómez Cruz, Music Director of Miami’s premiere jazz station, WDNA 88.9 FM, with whom I attended the concert, and who, unlike me, had seen Reeves before, was simply hypnotized throughout the gig. He barely managed to utter, throughout the concert, that Reeves had “improved a lot” and that pianist Peter Martin “plays a lot.” When music industry people are reduced to the barest language to convey their emotive responses to a musical performance, you know there is something going on up on stage. As Reeves continued her foray into material currently featured in her latest Blue Note release “The Calling: Celebrating Sarah Vaughn”, as well as other tunes, she immediately connected with her listeners with her affectionate approach to entertaining and guiding a crowd through whatever pathways are needed to enhance the musical offering. This woman knows how to make love to an audience’s intellect and emotions. Through sparse anecdotes about herself and Sarah Vaughn, general comments, a charming response to a shouting member of the audience who knew her work from the Caldera days, her gracious greeting to Vic Damone who was present, as well as the way she engaged in an Ellington tune solely with her bassist Reuben Rogers in order to recognize him in front of his family, also in attendance, Reeves was able to keep the flawlessly conceived flow of the concert in her firm grip. To say that Reeves’ interactions were elegant is a case in understatement. She was simply regal! As for her singing, a Cuban would say: “¡Me quedo corto!,” (I would fall short) and us Puerto Ricans would state: “¡Pa’qué te cuento!” (Why even say it?)... you can fill in the blanks with whatever cultural or linguistic expression you can muster. She no only has her own voice, her instrument is finely tuned and articulated emotive, swinging, hard-charging scats, along tuneful love melodies, with fantastic harmonizations within an outstanding vocal range. Reeves can be any number of instruments and can hang with any instrument player. She certainly did with the entire ensemble for two extensive sets, but most particularly with Martin, who released a solid album last year entitled Something Unexpected, and Rogers.
I love jazz because anything is possible; it has few rules and the best jazz breaks those ones. I prefer free improv because it doesn't really have any rules at all.
I was first exposed to jazz in my teens (in the late sixties).
The first jazz record I bought was Filles de Kilimanjaro by Miles Davis, shortly followed by Extrapolation by John McLaughlin.
My advice to new listeners is to listen as widely as possible and not to make snap judgments--stick with it.