"Sit back, relax, and think about love," Dianne Reeves advised during her Valentine's Night performance at the Kennedy Center Terrace Theater on Monday. Love tender or toxic, as it turned out.
The Grammy-winning jazz vocalist opened with a rendition of "The Twelfth of Never" pitched somewhere between fairy tale and spiritual, a comfortable niche for her supple contralto. Romance, innocence and affirmation remain prominent themes in Reeves's repertoire, and as the evening unfolded, the audience was treated to a warmhearted and often reflective collection of tunes, including "I'm All Smiles," "Better Days" and Abbey Lincoln's "Bird Alone."
But Reeves dramatically flipped the script with "Blue Prelude," which actually sounded more like an anguished postmortem. "All the love I could steal, beg or borrow wouldn't heal all the pain in my soul," she sighed.
Displaying exquisite vocal control, the singer seemed almost genetically incapable of hitting a shrill or errant note throughout the concert. She scatted with remarkable harmonic assurance, like someone who grew up listening to nothing but bebop, yet her influences seemed as far-reaching as her vocal range.
During a wordless, South African-flavored improvisation, for example, Reeves sounded like the lead voice in a township choir. The spontaneous performance eventually cracked her up, though. "You'll never hear it again because we don't know it," she said with a laugh, referring to her close-knit tour mates: pianist Peter Martin, bassist Reuben Rogers and drummer Greg Hutchinson. The trio, which has recorded with Reeves, was in fine form, contributing alert accompaniment and a string of colorful, complementary solos.
-- Mike Joyce