Saturday, October 17, 2009

Diane Reeves at Jazz at Symphony Center: Jazz for the New Age

by Dwight Casimere

From the slave cabin to the symphony stage,Diane Reeves spanned generations and genres in her Diane Reeves:With Strings Attached concert at Symphony Center, marking the first of the 16th season of Jazz at Symphony Center.

The 'Strings' component were guitar virtuosos Romero Lubambo and Russell Malone . Lubambo hails from Rio de Janeiro and is steeped in the Brazilian traditions of Antonio Carlos Jobim and Milton Nascimento. Malone hails from Albany, Georgia and is a disciple of George Benson with a nod to Wes Montgomery and Charlie Christian, (with a little bit of B.B. King's Lucille thrown in for good measure)!

From the opening bars of Jobim's Triste(Sad),Reeves gave full vent to her two and a half octave range and gave hints of the wide-ranging musical excursion that would ensue.Although the set was miked,Reeves often took advantage of the natural accoustics of Orchestra Hall and let her colorful voice carry naturally into the upper balconies. She especially did so during the encore as she strutted triumphantly toward the rear of the stage,faced the Terrace seats and let go with an inspired

'scat' tinged with Blues shouts and African chants. (Note to Diane:Please lose the cheesy synthesizer sounds that you employed during some of your solos,they were a distraction and destroyed what were otherwise sublime moments of rapport between you and guitarist Lubambo).

Reeves spoke often of her inspiration and idol, Sarah Vaughn. Speaking from the stage,she told of how she often listened to her parent's record collection of Sarah's classic early recordings in her native Detroit and of how she tried to emulate her complex vocal stylings, even at the tender age of 13. Another relative, uncle and celebrated musician George Duke, eventually brought the impressionable teen to Los Angeles to witness first-hand an All Star jazz concert.While backstage,she cornered an elderly woman and began regaling her with stories of her idol,Sarah Vaughn,only to later learn that the woman she had been boring with her youthful gushings was the ' Sassy' one herself!

With that, Reeves proved that she was an apt student. Singing the Thad Jones classic,' A Child Is Born',which was made famous by another vocal legend, Joe Williams, The four-time Grammy winner for Best Jazz Vocals allowed her voice to soar above the guitars in coloratura fashion, like a tropical bird that swooped and swirled then plunged to the depths of her lower, contralto register.It was a virtuoso performance befitting the Armour Stage.

To close, Reeves gave the audience a lesson in call and response that explored the wide expanses of the Mississippi Delta and the soul-warming confines of the Black Church, with side trips to the mountains outside Rio and the African plains. Reeve's concert provided an object lesson on the state of Modern Jazz and,in the process, revealed a new truth. Her chromaticizing and vocalising showed the new face of jazz.The jazz of 2010 is a type of World Music that honors its roots in the cotton fields and the black church,but embraces elements of the Latin American and African diasporas.

Jazz at Symphony Center continues Oct 30 with bass master Dave Holland and his fusion jazz quartet of Jason Moran, piano, Chris Potter, sax and Erc Harland, drums.For information and tickets visit

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