The new albums by Dianne Reeves and Diane Schuur offer familiar pleasures and welcome surprises, so it's reasonable to expect the same from the singers' upcoming engagements at Blues Alley.
Reeves's "Bridges" (Blue Note) is by far the more appealing and imaginative of the two releases. It's a mostly acoustic collection of pop standards and original tunes, each graced by the singer's remarkably supple voice, which has never sounded more intimate, fluid or expressive.
The familiar songs, ranging from Joni Mitchell's "River" to Jule Styne's "Make Someone Happy," reflect Reeves's diverse pop tastes as well as her fondness for lyrics that tell a story through poetic imagery or carry an inspirational message. "River" is particularly enjoyable since it teams Reeves with soprano saxophonist Kenny Garrett and deftly evokes Mitchell's early collaborations with reedman Wayne Shorter. The pairing of Reeves and Garrett also enhances a fresh and surprisingly dramatic arrangement of Leonard Cohen's "Suzanne."
As for the new songs, nearly all are worthy additions to Reeves's impressive repertoire. Patsy Moore's "I Remember," a song that reveals Mitchell's influence on Reeves's vocals, pays tribute to several jazz musicians who have recently died, including pianist Kenny Kirkland and singer Betty Carter. It quietly celebrates the almost mystical connection between artist and listener, a bond forged by playing a tune "over and over until dawn, until the grooves wore thin."
Other tracks that stand out are the Reeves-penned Deep South blues "Mista" and Kenya Boone's emancipation anthem "1863," a song inspired by the dawning of freedom. "There are so many, many stories, we should tell them again and again," Reeves sings, her voice brimming with pride, soul and determination.
Reeves performs at Blues Alley June 24-27.
(To hear a free Sound Bite from this album, call Post-Haste at 202-334-9000 and press 8171.)
Ahmet Ertegun and his co-producers, Yves Beauvais and Shane Keister, have accomplished something almost unprecedented on Schuur's new album, "Music Is My Life" (Atlantic). They've managed to tone down the singer's voice and curb her tendency to indulge in aimless, ear-splitting theatrics. At least that's generally the case once Schuur has moved beyond "Invitation," the album's opening track and yet another shrill example of her brand of vocal improvisation.
While Schuur doesn't entirely refrain from demonstrating the more irritating dimensions of her vocal range on other selections, several of her interpretations here are marked by a refreshing degree of restraint. Among the more pleasantly subdued surprises are a dreamy rendition of "Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered" and a simple, poignant version of "Good Morning Heartache." Her reflective performance of "If You Could See Me Now" also casts a warm glow, though it's briefly marred by a few grating vocal flourishes.
True to form, Schuur is surrounded by a cast of gifted jazz musicians, including pianist Alan Broadbent, who helps elevate several of the arrangements. Unfortunately, the album closes on a sour note, with Schuur performing "Over the Rainbow" sans accompaniment and, apparently, sans inspiration.
Schuur performs at Blues Alley Thursday through Sunday.
(To hear a free Sound Bite from this album, call Post-Haste at 202-334-9000 and press 8172.)
CAPTION: Diane Schuur: Less is more.
CAPTION: Dianne Reeves: The storyteller.