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Diane Schuur: Live in London

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Does Diane Schuur still matter? Though the vocalist has been performing actively on the national jazz scene since her 1984 GRP debut, Deedles, came out, and she has won two Grammies, critical interest in her work has waned since the early 1990s. Many critics have lauded her powerful voice and stylistic versatility but lamented her tendency toward histrionics and emotional blandness.

Live in London, recorded at Ronnie Scott's, might reassert her potential in the vocal pantheon. The disc is a fine example of Schuur the vocalist and pianist, collaborating with a fine band—bassist Scott Steed, guitarist Rod Fleeman and drummer Reggie Jackson—before an adoring (if subdued) audience. In many ways she represents exactly what is missing from a lot of "contemporary jazz—she knows how to balance jazz technique and feeling with emotional accessibility.

Schuur is galvanizing on her two elaborate scat solos on the samba-flavored "So in Love and a galloping "It Don't Mean a Thing. Fleeman soars on both tunes and Jackson adds a hot, polyrhythmic solo to the latter. Though Schuur has recorded with the Count Basie Orchestra, Maynard Ferguson's Big Bop Nouveau Band and the Caribbean Jazz Project, she sounds most radiant in a streamlined setting. On these wide-ranging pieces by Duke Ellington, Percy Mayfield, Cole Porter, Steve Wonder and others, Schuur's clear tone, superb diction and pitch-perfect piano scats illuminate the material with aplomb. The quartet is also quite resourceful in establishing a variety of moods and maintaining momentum over the course of the album's 75 minutes.

The set features two anthems: a punchy version of the Morgan Ames-penned "Deedle's Blues, followed by a hushed performance of "I'll Close My Eyes, which typifies her ballad style. Schuur's underrated piano playing proves a fine percussive foil for Jackson on the Latin-tinged arrangements of "As, "Poinciana and "Don't Let Me Be Lonely Tonight, bundled together on the album.

Schuur's stirring version of "Besame Mucho re-creates the scintillating arrangement from her Ferguson collaboration, Swingin' for Schuur, with seamless harmonizing in the final bars. Schuur's melodic imagination and harmonic eloquence complements her sleek voice-piano unison combinations and energetic trades with Fleeman, though her scats do get repetitive. Strings and woodwinds often crowd Schuur's recordings, but one of the more striking elements of this live set is its spaciousness. The spare bass and voice opening of "You'd Be So Nice to Come Home To establishes a framework for Steed to stretch out and fosters a warm, intimate vocal from Schuur.

A piano rendition of the ageless "Please Send Me Someone to Love and her signature a capella "Over the Rainbow delicately conclude the album. Amidst the "nu crooners and singer-songwriter/folk-oriented types currently prevalent in vocal jazz, Schuur probably seems old-fashioned. Regardless of trends, the beautiful vocals, impressive range and tight musicianship on Live confirm that Schuur matters. Ronnie Scott's has welcomed some of world's finest vocal talents—check out Ella Fitzgerald and Nina Simone's classic sets—and Live in London places Schuur amongst them.


Track Listing: Deedles' Blues; I'll Close My Eyes; Close Enough For Love As; Poinciana; Don't Let Me Be Lonely Tonight; You'd Be So Nice to Come Home To; When October Goes; Besame Mucho; The Very Thought of You; So In Love; It Don't Mean A Thing; Send Me Someone to Love; Over The Rainbow.

Personnel: Diane Schuur: piano, vocals; Scott Steed: bass; Rod Fleeman: guitar; Reggie Jackson: drums.

Title: Live in London | Year Released: 2006 | Record Label: GR2 Classics


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