Reeves jazz revolution
Growing up in Denver, Dianne Reeves was surrounded by a multitude of models of the way music could be played. A close cousin of hers is George Duke, the keyboardist and producer who has straddled the jazz and pop worlds, working with Miles Davis and Cannonball Adderley, Frank Zappa and George Clinton. An uncle was the bassist in the Denver Symphony Orchestra. And the first performing experiences the 51-year-old Reeves can recall is singing risqu blues tunes, loaded with naughty double entendres, with her great-aunt, following Thanksgiving family dinners.It is natural, then, for Reeves to have an open mind when it comes to musical ideas. So when the director of Jazz Baltica, a German festival, suggested several years ago that Reeves perform at the festival with two guitarists, she didnt flinch, but embraced the idea. Never mind that the combo the director had in mind comprised only Reeves and the two guitarists, and that Reeves, a singer, had never heard, or even heard of, a vocalist/guitarist/guitarist trio.In 2004, the idea finally came to fruition. Jazz Baltica united Reeves with two guitarists she knew well: Romero Lubambo, a longtime member of her touring band, and Russell Malone, who had contributed to Calling, Reeves tribute to Sarah Vaughan. The trio played a few shows at the festival, instilling in the singer a longing to take the project further. Finally, in 2006-07, Reeves did a full-blown European tour with Lubambo and Malone.About the only thing missing has been a U.S. presence for the trio. The combo made one stateside appearance, a special gig at New York Citys Metropolitan Museum of Art last September. Strings Attached, as the group is informally known, plays its second U.S. performance this week at the Jazz Aspen Snowmass June Festival. Reeves and company headline the opening night of the festival, on Thursday, June 19, under the Jazz Aspen tent in Rio Grande Park. The Aspen date is the only one Reeves has scheduled with the trio; her other dates through the summer feature a backing quartet with bass and drums included.Reeves doesnt miss the lack of a rhythm instrument, like drums or bass, or a sustain instrument, like keyboards, at least one of which is almost essential to a vocal trio. It is everything, said Reeves, describing the potential she finds in the unusual threesome. People are surprised by the things we can do. They see us get onstage and go, OK, so what is this going to be? Its a big, broad show. I wouldnt call it intimate. There are quiet moments but there are all kinds of moments. Its so musical.One of the elements that makes the Strings Attached project work is the diverse backgrounds involved. The beauty of it is, Im sitting between two guitarists who come from two very different places in the world one from Brazil, and one from Albany, Georgia, said Reeves, whose last local appearance was at the 2005 June Festival, when she gave a powerful performance backed by a more standard combo. They bring with them everything, an amazing harmonic vocabulary. And then theres me in the middle, creating this hybrid sound that can go from blues to samba.Reeves latest recording, When You Know, released in April, isnt a Strings Attached album. The sprawling, diverse record, produced by George Duke, counts over 20 musicians, and features the sounds of strings, piano and keyboards, a childrens choir, and the slightest element of brass. The album is organized around the theme of love, love of all different kinds; it opens with a dreamy take on the Motown hit Just My Imagination, that Reeves says suggests a teenage infatuation, and closes with the Reeves original Today Will Be a Good Day, an inspirational piece of stomping boogie-woogie dedicated to her mother.On another level, When You Know sprung from Strings Attached. Lubambo is featured on nine of the albums 10 tracks; Malone on seven. Moreover, despite the wealth of musicians and the density of the arrangements, the album grew out of the tour Reeves did with the two guitarists. Shortly after completing the tour, Reeves, who hadnt made an album of her own conception since 2003s A Little Moonlight, was bursting with ideas, and practically burst her way into the studio.It was born out of my experience I had with Russell and Romero, performing with two guitars, said Reeves, by phone from Denver, of When You Know. It was the freedom of expressing songs without anything around it. So I built the songs around just the way I was singing them. We had sketches of the songs, but not complete arrangements, because I love working with live musicians.
Reeves doesnt buy into the conventional wisdom that jazz is a dated, dying discipline. She says that notion is pushed largely by record company executives, who dont know how to turn the jazz style into dollars. I really, really dont believe that, she said, because its out there. I see it. There are institutions built on it; its being taught in a lot of wonderful universities. Young people are getting into it. Its in a transition, like a lot of things. Jazz still remains an even flow throughout. Its got a current.Of course, it would be hard for Reeves to say that jazz is in poor shape when her own career is in such good shape. Jazz may be on an even flow, but Reeves herself is on a sharp upward arc, and has been for a while.Beginning with 2001s In the Moment, Reeves earned Grammy Awards in the Best Vocal Jazz Performance for three consecutive releases, the first singer ever to pull off such a feat. Around the time of her third Grammy, for 2003s A Little Moonlight, Reeves was contacted by George Clooneys people, who were interested in using the singer in a movie Clooney was directing and starring in. It was only when she saw a copy of the script that Reeves realized she was being invited not only to contribute music to Good Night, and Good Luck, but to appear onscreen in Clooneys stylish, cinematically inventive, black-and-white story of TV journalist Edward R. Murrows showdown with Sen. Joseph McCarthy. The daring film was celebrated critically, earning six Oscar nominations, and Reeves soundtrack earned her a fourth Grammy.Reeves says she doesnt see herself as an entertainer. This will come as news to those who saw her 2005 Jazz Aspen performance, in which she turned the common idea of a jazz show sedate, internal on its head, as her huge voice filled the tent. But she says her concerts begin with the musical interaction onstage, rather than putting on a show for the audience. The crowd-pleasing element in her performance comes from bringing the listener into that onstage dialogue.We really try to invite the audience in with our music, she said. I like them to hear the musical interchange between the musicians.Reeves says a primary inspiration in balancing personal artistry and showmanship has been pianist Ahmad Jamal (who, coincidentally, performed in the Glenwood Springs Summer of Jazz series this past week).You go to his concerts, and as sophisticated as his music is, he has a way of communicating it to people,
Attendees at the 18th annual June Festival will be able to hear a broad scope of female voices over four days, Thursday through Sunday, June 19-22.Opening for Reeves is Bebel Gilberto, daughter of Joo Gilberto, the father of the Brazilian bossa nova style. The younger Gilberto, who lives in New York City, has followed her father into bossa nova but, as demonstrated on last years Grammy-nominated Momento, with an eye toward modernizing the music.Anita Baker makes her local debut on Friday, June 20. The r&b star, who racked up six Grammys through the 80s, re-emerged in 2005 with the well-received My Everything. Opening is the multi-gender vocal group the Manhattan Transfer, featuring Janis Siegel, the member with the busiest solo career.Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings, a retro-soul outfit from New York, is the opening act on Saturday, June 21. Jones, a former prison corrections officer, is earning acclaim as a great performer; the Dap-Kings, meanwhile, gained fame by backing another old-school soul woman, Amy Winehouse, on her Grammy-winning album, Back to Black.Things then move to the other side of the sex aisle. The Brian Setzer Orchestra, a big band led by the former Stray Cat frontman, headlines June 21. Los Lonely Boys, a Tex-Mex rock band centered around brothers Henry, Jojo and Ringo Garza, closes the festival on Sunday, June 22. The opening act that night is the Christian McBride Situation, headed by the outstanding bassist but featuring two women, keyboardist Patrice Rushen and singer Maysa Leak.The tradition of a free Sunday, church-time gospel concert continues this year as Davell Crawford, a New Orleans singer-pianist, brings his Davell Crawford Singers to the tent for a noon email@example.com