City Recital Hall, June 6
Singers become stars more easily than instrumentalists do because their voices and faces project personality more readily. And meanwhile they have lyrics for listeners to latch on to. Among current jazz singers Dianne Reeves probably radiates the most warmth as a person, and this infuses her singing. She has always delighted in improvising a sung welcome to the audience, an update of her day and an introduction of her musicians. Hell, she could probably sing Hansard and make it sound as congenial as a glass of wine around an open fire.
Why is this important? Because it helps her get away with other aspects of her performance that are close to being irritants. Just as Paco Pena gave us Disneyfied flamenco-lite last year, this flirted with a cross between the Las Vegas and arena-rock version of jazz, with extended singalongs and massed phone lights waving in the air.
Of course the warmth of Reeve’s personality alone wouldn’t be enough for her to get away with this were it not backed up by a stupendous voice: a sonorous contralto that is becoming more sumptuous with age, and that still has an upper extension shooting improbably high into the soprano stratosphere. Furthermore she could leap between registers with phenomenal assurance, spicing improvising that, as on Love Is Here To Stay, always felt organic rather than stilted.
Like her whole presentation, her jazzy reinvention of The Twelfth of Never was charming and effortless, but the highlight was The Man I Love, dedicated to Ella Fitzgerald. This she sang against Reginald Veal’s sparse, monumental double bass lines, so there was ample space for her to hold a syllable until she had squeezed out all its sap, and then slingshot to the next, before Romero Lubambo offered an unexpected solo of sustained electric guitar notes, not unlike a muted trumpet.
The band was completed by her long-time pianist Peter Martin and new drummer Terreon Gully. All were on a fairly tight leash. The singer, after all, was the star.