Dianne Reeves – Beautiful Life – Concord Music Group CRE 34171-02, 68:51 ****:
(Dianne Reeves – vocals; special guests- Sean Jones – trumpet track1; George Duke – synth solo, Nadia Washington – background vocals, acoustic guitar track 2; Robert Glasper – piano, keyboards track 3; Gregory Porter – vocals track 4; Lalah Hathaway – vocal track 5; Esperanza Spaulding – bass, background vocal track 8; Tineke Postma – soprano saxophone track 9; Raul Midon – vocal, trumpet track 10; Grégoire Maret – harmonica track 12)
Although she is one of today’s exceptional jazz vocalists, Dianne Reeves has been out of the mind of the record-buying public for the last five years and she has offered the following comment on this break: “As it regards the hiatus between albums, I don’t know if I can fully answer that. Life happened”. So when her new record label Concord Music decides to release her debut album Beautiful Life on February 11, 2014 just several days before Valentine’s Day, it is a date to mark on the calendar.
In a song set that ranges from covers of some easily recognizable pop, R&B, and reggae tunes, and stretches across the appropriate genres that are all too familiar to Reeves fans, she delivers the goods with the vocal facility that has been expected of this artist. Produced by jazz drummer Terri Lyne Carrington, the album brings together as guests some well-known performers such as George Duke, Gregory Porter and Esperanza Spaulding among others, all of whom add their talent and luster to the session.
With her gift for persuasion and communication, Reeves starts out with a strong love statement on Marvin Gaye’s “I Want You” with Sean Jones trumpet delivering a few well-placed riffs and triplets in her support. The segue into “Feels So Good” has a natural flow and gives her cousin, the late George Duke, a synth solo that fits right in with the mood of the number that Reeves established. Stevie Nicks wrote “Dreams” for the Fleetwood Mac album Rumors and Reeves version here with guest pianist Robert Glasper is an interesting re- imagining of the soft-rock original Fleetwood Mac rendition.
The Bob Marley version of “Waiting In Vain” is a simple stripped-down reggae offering, but Reeves has brought it up-market with production values that Marley would hardly recognize. That is not necessarily a bad thing, but it does stray from the reggae master’s original intention. The balance of the album continues to play to Reeves’ strengths and push her vocal skills. For example on her own composition “Tango”, she faultlessly and easily moves up and down her vocal range on a vocalese rendition of this tune. In fact the tune may not even have a lyric, but it is nevertheless charismatic. Grammy Award winner Esperanza Spalding penned “Wild Rose” on which she plays bass and provides a background vocal while Reeves works her way through the piece with her usual elegance and dexterity.
In a singular nod to the Great American Songbook, Reeves made an unusual choice with the Harold Arlen/ Ted Koehler standard “Stormy Weather”. Supported by soprano saxophonist Tineke Postma her approach to the material, however, stays in sync with the balance of the album, and she runs through the lyrics with soulful regret.
In today’s fast-changing music environment, being away for five years can be an eternity. But with this release Dianne Reeves shows that she is still a musical force and ‘attention must be paid’.
TrackList: I Want You; Feels So Good (Lifted); Dreams; Satiated (Been Waiting); Waiting In Vain; 32 Flavors; Cold; Wild Rose; Stormy Weather; Tango; Unconditional Love (For You); Long Road Ahead