The eagerly anticipated performance of American Jazz diva, Dianne Reeves, at the Royal Opera House Muscat, finally arrived last Thursday night. With such accolades as “the most eminent jazz vocalist in the world”, the five-time Grammy award winner, including ‘Best Jazz Vocal Performance’, the stakes were high for a stylish concert. For one performance only – her first in Oman – Ms Reeves’ 90-minute, sold-out show exceeded all expectations and dispelled any hints of scepticism. One just had to experience her captivating showmanship and vocal prowess to be convinced that Dianne Reeves really is the very best of jazz singers alive today; in fact, a Living Legend.
Along with the 61-year-old Diva, who has been performing since 1976, came a Quartet of the finest musicians around, and the show opened with the four men in an instrumental. It was an up-beat funk number, giving each the opportunity to solo on electric guitar, electric bass, grand piano and drums. Gradually the piece became more mainstream Be-bop, and with a slight uneasiness that the whole set would be in the Soul-R&B fusion style of her latest album, the musicianship of the band was unquestionably established.
The concern was quickly allayed. An intro in a more mellow mood, prompted by Reginald Veal’s change to acoustic double-bass, provided the atmospheric soundscape for Ms Dianne Reeves to make her enigmatic entrance in pure gold. Her professionalism and stage presence were astounding as she lifted the microphone from her side-table – no mic stand here – and without a blink, joined in with the richest, warmest tones one could only dare hope for. The song was her own interpretation of Paul Webster’s 1956 ballad, “Twelfth of Never” with some impossible vocal improvisations to help it on its way. Half-seated, the atmosphere was misty and relaxed – exactly as she intended. The following song, with no introduction, was one of her signature wordless improvisations to a jazz-waltz, and here that epithet, ‘she used her voice like an instrument’ became a reality. The quality of Ms Reeves’ vocal timbre was as wide and varied as her impressive range. From clear and resonant in the high register, she descended into the depths of her strong, smoky jazz sound, reminiscent of Dinah Washington or Abbey Lincoln.
Then she addressed the audience, introducing the lyrics she had set to Wayne Shorter’s 1966 ballad, “Infant Eyes”, when her Brazilian guitarist friend, the Rio-born, Romero Lubambo, became a grandfather for the first time while on tour with her band in 2017. It was an insight into Ms Reeves’ depth of empathy and her ability to transform emotion into a poignant and moving song. Lubambo himself changed to acoustic guitar and a sublime piano solo from her MD and pianist, Peter Martin, rendered this one of the most haunting of the evening.
Dianne Reeves’ magic went on and on. She reintroduced her Bassist – singing – and he played a spectacular solo on the electric instrument. She told her early life story in an improvised vocal duet, where a lesser musician would have spoken, taking up valuable performance time. She came from simple but musical roots in Detroit. This melted into the most sultry interpretation of Miles Davis’ “All Blues” imaginable. Ms Reeves is admired for her marvellous phrasing and elegant musicality which informs every note she delivers, and here those qualities were so evident. It was followed by an original composition on being 9-years-old, celebrating that innocent sense of wonder she recalled inhabiting during childhood. The fast standard-swing is an example of her breath-taking vocal technique in which she is in total command of every story she spins into song.
The next section of the evening became more focused and intimate as guitarist, Romero Lubambo, gave a virtuoso solo introduction to Jobim’s iconic Bossa Nova, “ Quiet Nights and Quiet Stars”. Ms Reeves’ endowed it with an exuberant sense of Latin heat and then launched into brilliant scat improvisation. The interpretation of Duke Ellington’s slow, “Solitude” was alluring and beautifully accompanied on just piano and guitar. Unusually, she called back the bass player and drummer, Terreon Gully, for a complex drum solo in the frenzied Outro. An original Latin composition, “Tango” allowed for vocal acrobatics in a wordless tour-de-force with which Ms Reeves improvises and inspires audiences throughout the world.
Sadly the Finale came all too soon. She is one of those performers who you want to sing on forever, to hear again tomorrow night, her style is so varied and eclectic. She sang each member of the band’s name to solo and claim his applause. A standing ovation brought her back on stage and she invited the audience to hold up the lights on their ‘phones as a metaphor for the “Beautiful Life” – the title track of her latest album – in an encore of a performance which surpassed everyone’s dreams. This year the National Endowment for the Arts will bestow on Ms Reeves the highest honour which the USA can award – Jazz Master, and after experiencing Thursday’s show, it is completely understood and utterly deserved.
Written by GEORGINA Benison
Photos by Khalid al Busaidi