“Now here you go again, you say/You want your freedom/Well who am I to keep you down?..” ‘Think you know this Stevie Knicks song? Listen to Dianne Reeves’ singular interpretation. Eschewing almost all the familiar melody, Reeves leaves only signposts and a bit of chorus to signify the original. Mantra-like rhythm and wordless singing the term “scat” hardly covers recalibrate tension and release. Eyes closed, hand patting her hip, she bounces slightly or steps to meet the direction of her hips.
Not only is the iconic “Stormy Weather” even more unrecognizable, but accompaniment appears to have lost its way from another song. Beginning with Reeves’ deeply rooted hum, followed by evocative music – gentle breeze, converging clouds – Reeves sings languidly as if sitting on a balcony during a heat wave. The song is reflective, its sorrow borne. No wailing here. Piano and percussion give us diminishing drops, rebounds, splashes. “Since he went away…” she sings sitting on a stool, free hand in her lap. The song emerges something other, unto itself.
“Tango,” this evening’s centerpiece, is worth the price of Reeves’ new CD Beautiful Life. Signature, Afro-Cuban sounds act as lyrics during seven minutes of transfixing incantation. Even the intake of breath seems like a word. “heyda…umbata..badaumbeya…” There’s that hum again and a primal, sustained, high-pitched note. Her left arm and hand are never still, fingers play the air as if eliciting notes. Shhhh…bomp..zumzoda…do..dee..do..bomp, bomp, bayedah…”step, step, hip slap, bounce, hip stroke, step, bounce…the lady IS the music.
Peter Sprague’s guitar is sensual. We sway in our seats. Also a physical performer, the musician curls forward as if embracing his instrument, leans back, bends a single knee. Percussion strokes cymbals, hits wood rims as f the stick twirled; piano evokes waves. We imagine brightly colored and patterned clothes, cigars, fruit drinks. “Asooka… ayaye…yeaha” People squirm in their seats aching to get up and move. “I guess you see this song has no words…it’s dedicated to all the singers I have in my collection who sing things I don’t understand.”
“This is a song I wrote about being 9 years old. I picked 9 because that’s the last time you’re only one number… I remember 9 as if it were yesterday…” Lyrics don’t quite sync here. Melody is upbeat and fun. Each instrument seems to emulate a rambunctious kid with his own agenda. The latter section is filled with children’s own conversation and is delightful, if a prose poem, not a song.
Reeves is warm and eminently likeable. Had she not opened her eyes, looked at us, and shared on this and one other occasion, we would’ve found her aloof. The appealing artist also relates an anecdote about being inspired to add a bit of Sarah Vaughan ( she demonstrates) to her adolescent, city chorus performance of Bach’s “Magnificat.”
With a nod to Vaughan, “Misty” is more straightforward and melodic than any other number with a simply lovely piano break by Peter Martin. Reeves’ sumptuous ease is enmeshing. Bob Marley’s “Waiting in Vain” arrives calypso. The guitar is pickin’ n’ pluckin’, all our heads bob. Lyrics sound wistful, rather than sad because of the infectious arrangement.
Dianne Reeves is a formidable talent with scary range and protean control. One has to be willing to let go of expectations and take the ride, most of which is quite wonderful.
Only a performer as indelible as this one could keep an audience from overtly grousing about a fifteen minute opening instrumental and thirty-five minute intermission.
Photos-Lawrence Sumulong for Jazz at Lincoln Center
Jazz at Lincoln Center presents Dianne Reeves
Peter Martin- Music Director/Piano/Keyboard
Peter Sprague-Guitar, Reginald Veal-Bass, Terreon Guy- Drums
Rose Theater at The Time Warner Center, Columbus Circle
February 13, 2015