It’s been a long five years since Dianne Reeves’ last long player but at last she’s back with a new label (Concord) and, it seems, a passion to get back to the vitality and freshness that won her four Grammys.
On ‘Beautiful Life’ (with one notable exception) Ms Reeves departs from what had become her standard fayre – jazz classics and standards with elaborate but ultimately straightforward arrangements. Here she offers a selection of new songs but intersperses them with a selection of inspiring pop and soul tunes – songs like Fleetwood Mac’s ‘Dreams’ – that are rarely given a jazz interpretation. All are delivered in the singer’s especial, unique way, so that the aforementioned ‘Dreams’, Marvin Gaye’s ‘I Want You’, Bob Marley’s ‘Waiting In Vain’ and Ani DiFranco’s ’32 Flavors’ become “new” songs. The Gaye cover, in particular, is a revelation. Instead of the usual strutting, chest-beating, lust-busting passion, Reeves goes for a much gentler, subtler approach. This cover is an insinuation rather than a demanding statement and, you know, it’s probably a more effective way to achieve your aims – especially in the 21st century. Sean Jones’ mellow, muted trumpet helps prolong the mood while the late George Duke (Dianne’s cousin by the way) offers the most sympathetic keyboard fills. Duke’s on hand for four more tracks – of which ‘Satiated (Been Waiting)’ will be the one that attracts the most attention. A new song, penned by producer/programmer Terri Lynne Carrington, it’s a duet with soul/jazz’s new poster boy, Gregory Porter and on it he offers plenty of evidence as to why he holds that position… it’s a great cut, extending the mood created by ‘I Want You’ (that man Jones offers more mean horn too).
Apart from Duke and Porter, ‘Beautiful Life’ features a number of other “name” guests – amongst them Robert Glasper, Esperanza Spalding, Tineke Postma, Sheila E, Raul Midon, Gregoire Maret and Lalah Hathaway who shares vocal responsibility on the light and lovely treatment of ‘Waiting In Vain’. (Listen up the sparkling piano of Peter Martin). ‘Long Road Ahead’ is another album highlight with Gregoire Maret’s input showing that not all harmonica players have to sound like Stevie Wonder.
In the context of the whole album and its freshness, it seems odd that Ms Reeves covers the standard ‘Stormy Weather’ (the “exception” we mentioned up top). She and producer Carrington slow it right down to fit the album’s overall mood and they do achieve a melancholy to match the lyric – Tineke Postma’s sax enhancing the mood. And mood is what this album’s all about … yes, life is beautiful, but in a laid-back kind of way. Dianne Reeves’ fans will totally understand and soul folk who might be being turned towards jazz thanks to people like Gregory Porter will get the picture too.