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Dianne Reeves (2022 EFG LJF)

Dianne Reeves

(Queen Elizabeth Hall.  13 November 2022. Live review by Alison Bentley)

Dianne Reeves. Photo credit: Emile Holba / Serious

It was the end of the tour for US singer Dianne Reeves and there was a feeling of irrepressible excitement. Her band got into its stride with an instrumental Softly, as in a Morning Sunrise beginning and ending with a sparkling drum solo (Terreon Gully)– the mix of Latin and precipitous swing setting the tone for the rest of the evening.

Bassist Reuben Rogers swapped upright for electric, and Edward Simon moved from grand piano to keyboard for the spacey sounds of Fleetwood Mac’s Dreams. Arranged by Robert Glasper for her Grammy-winning album Beautiful Life, it provided a contemporary frame for her powerful stage presence and distinctive voice, which was both comforting and provocative. Romero Lubambo’s electric guitarhad a dreamy reverb cushioning the voice, which began gently and grew in power with what Reeves calls “ancestral”, or more African tones. It sent a shiver up the spine as her high whistle notes contrasted with the powerful drum solo. She sang some of her song introductions with humour and panache, rather than just talking to the audience.

The jazz waltz I’m All Smiles, from the 2003 album A Little Moonlight,was at alivelier tempo than Bill Evans’ take on it. Resonant acoustic bass and vocal improv led harmonically dissonant chromatic lines. Reeves’ voice ran across the rhythm, smooth and liquid; the band followed every nuance of her phrasing and dynamics. Lubambo’s classical guitar solo had a Spanish feel and swung joyfully. After 45 years of gigging, Reeves had found the pandemic gave her some quiet time but she’d “lost a lot of people”. Her composition I Remember was a gentle tribute to them, with a potent metaphor of records’ grooves wearing away.

In Reeves’ own Tango, the humorous shapes of her vocal sounds were influenced by Latin songs that she’d heard as a young singer, inspired by Celia Cruz. She began acapella with arpeggios spanning her full range, till bass and drums brought in a slow dramatic rhumba. Reeves seemed to be singing for the sheer joy of singing. In contrast, Our Love is Here to Stay was a sotto voce vocal/guitar duet with a bright Brazilian rhythm, sung with an emphatic clarity to the voice and a sense of freedom. She’s been working with Lubambo since the 90s and they had a wonderful rapport. She told the story of Sérgio Mendes laughing at her attempts to sing in Portuguese at an audition when she was still at student- but she still got the gig with him. “Fake it till you make it,” she told us. The duo played Reeves’ Nine, a song (in 7) of childhood memories written for her godson. As she incorporated nursery rhymes into her improvising, Ella-style, you felt part of her skill as a vocalist was engaging with her own 9-year- old self.

The band came back in for Triste, including Reeves’ protegée, guest singer Song Yi (from Korea via Switzerland.) You could feel her drawing out Song Yi’s confidence as the latter sang a rich-voiced countermelody; the voices sparked off each other as they traded fours with intriguing rhythmic sounds. They sang Metheny’s Minuano wordlessly as the drummer added a third harmony- the whole room was caught up in their energy.

Reeves literally sang the band’s praises over a funky minor groove, the audience clapping and singing in call and response. But the encore was quiet and intimate- just her voice of many colours with guitar in McCoy Tyner’s You Taught my Heart to Sing- sung, she said, about her relationship with the audience, and so given a poignant twist. She sang her goodbyes to us off mic as she slowly moved off stage-and the audience exploded into a standing ovation.

Applause for Dianne Reeves and her band. Photo credit: Emile Holba/ Serious
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