I recently had the pleasure of attending a sold out Carnegie Hall jazz concert featuring Dianne Reeves with special guests Esperanza Spalding, George Duke, Lalah Hathaway, Nadia Washington, and Terri Lyne Carrington, each of whom will be profiled in upcoming blogs. This all-star lineup performed one of the best concerts I've heard!
Reeves started off a cappella, walking on stage while singing an almost primordial tango, the band gradually joining in, leading up to an exciting finish to a dazzling opener. It wasn't long before pianist George Duke joined in for a few numbers, playfully gliding up and down the keyboard while grinning the entire time. Terri Lyne Carrington, on drums, seemed to revel in a trance, her head tilted back, mouth agape, and eyes closed as a whirlwind of rhythms flowed through her; the beats were varied and unyielding. Reeves conjured Ethel Waters and Lena Horne in her unique arrangement of "Story Weather," among many other ballads, some with a contemporary R&B flavor, others with a smooth-jazz vibe.
Newcomer Nadia Washington graced the stage with her sweet solo vocals and guitar before joining several other songs as backup vocalist. Reeves openly shared how proud she was of the young artist who she met while hanging out with some of the co-eds at Berklee College. Reeves pointed out that you had to find her through social media. Similarly, Reeves gave a shout out to Alicia Olatuja, who she connected with through Twitter (@DianneReeves1) and invited to the concert. Reeves had been impressed with Olatuja's solo in "Battle Hymn of the Republic" at the 2013 Presidential Inauguration.
Dianne Reeves singing with Lalah Hathaway © 2013 Jack Vartoogian
Lalah Hathaway sang a tremendously soulful rendition of "For All We Know," a song popularized by her father Donny Hathaway. Her contralto sound is one of the richest I've heard, and her extraordinary ability to manipulate melisma made for a virtuosic duet with Reeves, full of improvised ornamentation, leaps across octaves, and a playful sharing of melody and harmonies.
Esperanza Spalding stunned the audience with her graceful beauty and amazing ability to scat endlessly while accompanying herself on acoustic bass; she released a wave of emotion in her singing. Reeves earnestly commented on Spalding's ability to pull off such a distinguishing style and sound. Their duet, "The Tale of the Wild Rose," was written for Reeves by Spalding, and they certainly enjoyed performing it together live.
Dianne Reeves singing with Nadia Washington and bass player Esperanza Spalding © 2013 Jack Vartoogian
At intermission, I caught a glimpse of the set list at the mixing board, which, as is often the case in jazz, was only announced as the performance went along. There, I had the fortune of chatting quickly with Reeves's sound engineer and tour manager who told me that he was pleased with mix, especially with such a percussive set up. I learned that Reeves often performs in 900-2,000 seat halls, so I imagine she felt right at home singing for a capacity crowd of 2,800 at Carnegie Hall. It was a night spanning generations of jazz talent. It's thrilling to look forward to the bright future of jazz music.