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Dianne Reeves takes music to new level with latest genre-defying album

Dianne Reeves, February 22, 2017

The Province

by Stuart Derdeyn

To understand the genius of Diane Reeves, you need only listen to the track Tango from her latest album Beautiful Life.

The 10th tune on her 2014 Concord release showcases her incredible scat skills juxtaposed against guitarist Raul Midon’s tasty acoustic grooves. While the killer backing band gets its most seductive Latin vamp locked in, Reeves manages to incorporate everything from gospel-tinged hollers to yodelling, operatic flights and the occasional gutsy growl.

Not once does she drop a shooby-doo or any of the other standard clichés of jazz vocals into the tune. This is typical for the singer. Since hitting her stride with her spectacular sixth solo album, 1991’s I Remember, she has built her career on a repertoire that never lets genre definition get in the way of her choice of material.

If the tune feels right, the Denver, Colo.-based vocalist takes it and does what she wants with it. Beautiful Life includes everything from her takes of Marvin Gaye’s I Want You to Ani DiFranco’s 32 Flavours, and even Stevie Nicks’ oft-done Dreams.

“I listen to music all the time, and a lot of the things I cover are the standards of my time and they work for me,” said Reeves. “There is a long tradition of jazz musicians taking the popular music of their time and giving it a jazz sensibility, and I think that tradition continues. At one point, Ella Fitzgerald did a whole Swinging the Beatles performance, and it was quite fabulous.”

Asked if she thinks that the great American songbook needs added pages, Reeves notes that there are many excellent singers working today who make it their focus. An arrangement of Harold Arlen and Ted Koehler’s Stormy Weather appears on her latest recording.

Ultimately, it’s about the song and what Reeves can do with it. A prime example is the pop/jazz fusion number Wild Rose, which could have graced radio charts in the late 1970s.

“Esperanza Spalding wrote that song for me after we talked about her being on the record,” said Reeves. “She brought it to me around Christmas 2014 and it was one of the best presents ever. You know, each record you do you are always moving forward to the next one and this tour I’m mixing material from Beautiful Life, some past songs and a tribute segment to Ella Fitzgerald, too.”

Recalling Fitzgerald is reminiscent of the time when jazz singers and crooners graced pop charts and the radio, rather than specialty programming on public or digital radio. Lately, with talents such as Spalding, Gregory Porter, Jose James and others blowing up all over, it’s a very good time for singers again.

Reeves takes it further.

“Yes, and there is Kurt Elling’s new project, Lalah Hathaway, Robert Glasper and jazz artists exploding up all over such as Kamasi Washington working with Kendrick Lamar,” she said. “It’s really exciting to see this happening, as it’s almost like the industry going back to before everything was part of a scene.”

Growing up in the 1960s and 1970s, Reeves hadn’t even heard the word genre. There is a sense that she dislikes categorization.

“You could go to a concert then and see Ravi Shankar and Miles Davis together and it wasn’t called world music, it was just music filed alphabetically in the record store,” she said. “And now I’m excited to see that coming back together again with a lot of unique artists exploding out with social media and online exposure where they may not have industry presence. Jazz historically does well in tumultuous times and there is plenty to draw upon now.”

Reeves’ cousin, keyboardist George Duke who died in 2013, was likely a role model in her favouring an open approach to her art. Not only did he release more than 30 solo jazz recordings, but he was famous for his work with violinist Jean-Luc Ponty and as a member of Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention, appearing on such key recordings as 1973’s Over-Nite Sensation and 1974’s Apostrophe.

Sun Feb 19, 2017