By Jesse Hamlin
Published 4:47 pm, Wednesday, June 11, 2014
Dianne Reeves, the sumptuous-voiced jazz singer who’s as likely to do a Temptations tune as a Cole Porter classic, always liked Fleetwood Mac’s “Dreams, ” one of the modern standards on “Beautiful Life,” her first album in five years. But she never figured she’d sing it.
"I always liked it, but not for me," Reeves says. She changed her mind after hearing the arrangement pianist Robert Glasper wrote, with its gospel feel and loping backbeats, with her fluid voice and improvisational finesse in mind. He’s one of the creative young jazz musicians on this soul-style pop record, produced by drummer and composer Terri Lyne Carrington.
"Wow, it took on a whole different meaning," says Reeves, 56, a four-time Grammy winner who sounds focused and relaxed these days, on stage and off. She’ll sing some of the songs from "Beautiful Life" - the repertoire ranges from Bob Marley’s "Waiting in Vain" to the Marvin Gaye hit "I Want You" to a floating meditation on "Stormy Weather" - when she returns to the SFJazz Center Sunday night to play a sold-out show at the San Francisco Jazz Festival.
Singing with the flexible quartet of Brazilian guitarist Romero Lubambo, pianist Peter Martin, bassist Reginald Veal and drummer Terreon Gully, Reeves will shape more intimately scaled renditions of songs from the polished studio recording, which features young stars such as Esperanza Spalding, Gregory Porter and trumpeter Sean Jones, and savvy veterans like keyboardist and producer George Duke, Reeves’ cousin and longtime musical associate, who died last year.
1st singer at Disney Hall
“George was something else,” says Reeves, on the phone from her home on a tree-lined street in Denver, where she grew up, and where she returned more than 20 years ago after stretches in New York and L.A. She commuted from the Rockies while serving as theLos Angeles Philharmonic’s first Creative Chair for Jazz (she was the first singer to perform at Disney Hall).
"Excellence was second nature to George. He was an impeccable musician who played all genres of music, which is important to communicate with people." Duke produced several of Reeves’ recordings, including 2008’s "When You Know," her last for Blue Note, the label for which she recorded Grammy winners like 2001’s "The Calling: Celebrating Sarah Vaughan." As a producer, "George didn’t have a huge ego. It was always about what you wanted to say. You were always sad when the session was over because he made the perfect atmosphere for creativity."
For her debut on Concord Records, Reeves - who’s been busy in recent years touring in aNina Simone show with singers Lizz Wright and Angelique Kidjo and leading a lovely trio with Lubambo (on Spanish guitar) and jazz guitarist Russell Malone - wanted to collaborate with some of “these great young musicians who are doing interesting things, and are listening to the music that I came up on. I wanted to bridge jazz and the music of today. This is a jazz record steeped in a strong soul element.”
Reeves had known Carrington since the wizardly drummer was about 10, and had worked with her on Carrington’s all-female Mosaic Project in 2010, which also featured Spalding and Oakland percussion ace Sheila E, who’s on “Beautiful Life,” too. So is the soulful Swiss harmonica player Gregoire Maret, adding his reedy voice to the stirring “Long Road Ahead” co-written by Reeves and dedicated to her mother, who died in 2012. Porter goes to town with Reeves on the carnal soul ballad “Satiated (Been Waiting),” a Carrington original flush with swelling voices and horns and the bluesy hum of a Hammond B-3 organ.
"I run into Gregory in Europe and we come together sometimes to do things," Reeves says. "I love singing with him."
As for her own singing these days, “I feel really comfortable. I’ve always respected and taken care of my instrument.” Working in the lacy trio with the two guitarists, she’s found new things in that instrument, she adds, “more colors.”
Taking care of that rich voice - critic Stephen Holden put it nicely when he called Reeves “the vocal heir of Sarah Vaughan, whose voice could also travel anywhere” - “is something you do 24/7. You sing with the same voice you do interviews with. More than anything, you want to have very little craziness around you. You want the atmosphere around you as peaceful as possible.”
Open to new music
When she’s not heading off to jazz festivals in Curacao, Cork or Istanbul, or doing a symphony gig somewhere, she likes to hang at home with her dog, Rudy, a Papillion, and cook for family and friends.
And she keeps her ears open to new music, listening to original young artists like New York pianist and film composer Kris Bowers, “who’s doing amazing stuff,” and singer Jose James, whose next able she’s eager to hear.
Something of theirs might end up in her repertoire, along with songs by Gershwin and Jobim, Leonard Cohen, Errol Garner and Ani de Franco, whose “32 Flavors” she sings on “Beautiful Life.”
"Jazz musicians have always taken the standards of their time and performed them with a jazz sensibility," Reeves says. "These are the standards of my time."
Dianne Reeves: 7:30 p.m. Sunday. $30-$95 (Sold out). SFJazz Center, 201 Franklin St., S.F. (866) 920-5299. www.sfjazz.org