This past Wednesday, July 31, 2013, on one of those perfectly moderate summer evenings we rarely get to experience, the stars were aligned for an outdoor concert in Stamford's Columbus Park featuring Ms. Dianne Reeves. A walk through the crowd and one could find every type of fan, from young hipsters to seasoned octogenarians, who all came for a rare opportunity to see up close and be touched by the magic of Ms. Reeves.
Ms. Reeves is a once in a generation singer who possess a rare combination of an excellent voice, impeccable timing, a great range and the innate ability to deliver a song with a feeling that makes it an intimate experience between her and her audience. At the age of 56 it is not hyperbole to consider her in the same breath as singers of the stature of Nancy Wilson, Dinah Washington or Carmen McRae and, indeed, even Ella Fitzgerald or her idol Sarah Vaughn could be considered peers.
The four-time Grammy award winner was born in Detroit but raised in Denver, Colorado to a musical family. Her father was a singer and her mother played trumpet, Her uncle was a bass player in the Denver Symphony Orchestra and she is a cousin to the respected fusion keyboard master George Duke, who sadly just past away on August 5, 2013. As a young woman Reeves had a penchant for Latin Music and played with Eduardo del Barrio's group Caldera, Sergio Mendes and later Harry Belafonte. Her solo career took off in 1987 when she signed with a reinvigorated Blue Note Records.
Ms. Reeves brought a group of top-notch musicians with her to Stamford to help her weave her spell. The drummer Teri-Lyne Carrington, the bassist Reginald Veal, the pianist Peter Martin and Brazilian guitar virtuoso Romero Lumbambo are members of her latest quartet, the same core group from her latest album When You Know
The set started out with the band warming up with a rousing version of the Gershwin classic "Summertime" featuring some soulful walking bass lines by Reginald Veal and beautiful acoustic guitar work by Lumbambo. Ms. Reeves entered the Bud Light stage to generous applause and she greeted the crowd warmly. She started off her set with the tune "Dreams," written and made famous by Fleetwood Mac's Stevie Nicks. The song started with Peter Martin using a Bruce Hornsby-style opening on piano and featured some symbiotic interplay between Ms. Reeves marvelously flexible voice and Reginald Veal's supple, fleet fingered electric bass lines. Fans in the crowd mouthed the familiar words that were somehow transformed by Ms. Reeves into a most personal statement. Scatting acrobatically throughout the bridge of the tune, the band enthusiastically provided a driving rhythm behind her. With the cool crisp night's perfect weather, Ms Reeves assured the crowd that this night would be like a private concert in her own outdoor living room.
The second song of the set was a sensuous ballad once made famous by Lena Horne, from her evocative role in the 1943 motion picture of the same name Stormy Weather. Ms. Reeves has amazing vocal control and can leap a full octave flawlessly if her mood suits her and to great effect. Pianist Peter Martin offered a gorgeously lush cascade of well placed notes during his solo adding to the dreamy mood created by Ms. Reeves and her pliant rhythm section. At one point Ms. Reeves found herself trying to hold the intimate mood of the song despite a battalion of screaming fire trucks rushing down the street behind the stage. Like the consummate professional, she took it all in stride and humanized the situation with her grace and humor laughing at the ridiculously adverse conditions of the moment. Ms. Reeves modulates her voice bringing an inherent sense of emotional power to her interpretation of a song. Despite the familiarity of the music she personalizes making it her own.
Her love of Latin music was showcased on the next song, a samba style rhythm and she sang in what appeared to be a pseudo-Spanish vocalese. Mr. Veal changed from electric to upright bass and Mr. Lumbambo played a beautifully fluid flamenco-style guitar solo. Like all good entertainers Ms. Reeves tells a story. In this case the story was about her love of Latin music and about how when she would listen to some of it she would often times not understand a word the singer was saying. It didn't seem to matter since the soul of the song was all about the emotion and the rhythm that it evoked. Despite the lack of understandable lyrics, Ms Reeves proved that the music could connect to the audience on a very personal level wordlessly.
Ms. Reeves then introduced a song written by the young phenom bass player Esperanza Spalding, titled "Wild Rose." The song had a lilting, bouncy beat that had descending bridge, the perfect vehicle for Ms. Reeves, who can navigate swift changes with the aplomb of a seasoned sea-captain in treacherous waters. Ms.Carrington accentuated the music while a series of rolling toms as Mr. Martin comped on what sounded like a Rhodes electric piano.
The next song, the powerful, "I've Grown Cold," started with Ms. Reeves speaking to the audience about the meaning of the song's lyrics, a true ending of a relationship. Mr. Veal produced a thumping lead-in bass line and contributed an accompanying duet vocal with Ms Reeves on the chorus.
Introducing the Brazilian guitarist Romero Lumbambo as her brother from another mother, Ms. Reeves started the unnamed bossa by vocalizing, almost operatically, over Mr. Lumbambo's breezy guitar rhythms. Ms. Reeves affinity for both Latin and Brazilian music is clearly reinforced by Lumbambo presence in her band . He offers a creative counter voice to Ms. Reeves and the two share a musical symbiosis that Downbeat's John Murph likened to the relationship Billie Holiday had with Lester Young.
One of the highlights of the show was a creative rendition of Bob Marley's classic
"Waiting In Vain." The familiar reggae tune was brought to life by Mr. Martin's stirring piano solo, Mr. Veal's rock steady pulse and Ms. Carrington's propelling drums. But it was all Ms. Reeves show as she wailed "Ooo girl" Ooo girl" with convincing anguish and then went into an authentic Jamaican rap hat had the crowd swaying. All we needed was some a rum cocktail with a tiny umbrella to complete the journey.
The finale was a slow blues burner that allowed Ms. Reeves to beckon on her Gospel and blues roots. "Your Love is King" featured some soulful organ work by Peter Martin and a scorching Lumbambo solo on electric guitar that was a tour-de-force of melancholic artistry. Ms. Reeves can belt out the blues with the best of them, getting a raspy, snarling sound at will and singing with the command of a Baptist preacher at a revival meeting.The concert was a huge success as Ms. Reeves once again proved she is the premier female jazz vocalist of her generation. If you haven't yet caught her she will be performing with her marvelous quartet at the Tarrytown Music Hall on September 28, 2013. A word to the wise -- don't miss the chance to see this fantastic performer when you can.