In the studio, recording artists are afforded the opportunity to explore and polish. While tracks can on occasion be first-take gems, it's more likely that tunes will be taken for several spins before the crowning rendition is nailed. And even then, overdubs are frequently used to create the best-sounding version of a piece. Recording in the studio is an art form with plenty of nets to catch the glitches, slip ups and even blunders.
Recording live in front of an audience is a whole different ballgame. But while that experience offers an artist little room for error, it also gives the performer a freedom of expression that is difficult to achieve within the confines of a four-walled studio. So, throwing caution to the wind, some musicians jump at the chance to document their "live" personalities.
Jazz vocalist extraordinare Dianne Reeves is one such venturesome artist as evidenced on her new Blue Note album, In the Moment-Live in Concert "People have continuously told me over the years they love my records, but that I was totally different live," says Reeves. "The stage is where I live; it's where I comfortably walk on the edge. I love the magic that ignites between me the musicians and the audience."
Reeves' eighth Blue Note release and tenth recording overall, In the Moment was recorded on two nights in January this year at Studio Instrument Rentals Sound Stage in Los Angeles. "It's a fine theater that seats 300-400 people comfortably," says Reeves, who put out the word to her fans through her mailing list. "It's a great space. By adding our own touch, we made a very warm and intimate atmosphere so that our friends could enjoy themselves." Joining her for the sessions (produced by her cousin George Duke) were keyboardist Otmaro Ruiz, guitarist Romero Lubambo, bassist Reginald Veal, drummer Rocky Bryant and percussionist Munyungo Jackson.
At this point in her career, Reeves is riding a crest. She's heralded as one of jazz's pre-eminent female vocalists, garnering accolades from the jazz press (in Down Beat, Zan Stewart praised her for her intuitive and authentic delivery) as well as pop scribes (in Vibe, Greg Tate labeled her a classic). Born in Detroit, Reeves grew up in Denver where she now resides. As a budding performer she was discovered by Clark Terry, and subsequently began working with the trumpeter while she was still in high school. In the mid-70s she began doing session work in Los Angeles and also formed her own working band before going out on tours with Sergio Mendes (one of her main influences) and Harry Belafonte in the early 80s.
Reeves made her recording debut in 1982 with Welcome to My Love on the now-defunct West Coast imprint, Palo Alto Jazz, and followed that with 1985's For Every Heart (several of the tracks from these two albums have been compiled by Blue Note and released as The Palo Alto Sessions 1981-1985). She made her Blue Note debut in 1987 with Dianne Reeves, from which the song "Better Days" proved to be a hit. Throughout her Blue Note recording career Reeves has restlessly moved forward, unafraid to explore various styles while still rooting her music in a jazz sensibility. She maintains that it is important to develop a unique voice and that her strong jazz foundation has facilitated the exploration of her own individuality.
With a passionate and deeply moving delivery, Reeves makes full use of her many influences, both pop and jazz. "I grew up on many jazz singers, such as Sarah Vaughan, who had a great impact on me. She used the rich tones of her voice to color and expand a melody, and she sang all kinds of music," says Reeves. "I was also very captivated by fusion jazz, which was really my entrée into world music. I was brought up on the music of Motown, which had a very strong and proud voice; it was a soul revolution. Plus, I had the opportunity to start performing with bands at a very young age. Having been exposed to all of that unbridled musical freedom inspired me, ultimately enabling me to add my own life experience to my music."
Reeves does that to perfection on In the Moment, which, she says, tells stories of her life. On the disc, Reeves covers a range of material, from new arrangements of such early numbers as "Come In" to a stretch of Brazilian-influenced tunes. The album opens with the traditional church hymn "Morning Has Broken," which pop singer Cat Stevens rendered in the early '70s and Reeves recorded on her 1997 album That Day . "It's an invocation," he says. "Most of my shows start out with this song."
Reeves cooks up a hot Latin feel on Mongo Santamaria's "Afro Blue," which features her soaring scats, then delivers the first of several originals, "The First Five Chapters." It's a quiet, reflective tune based on the poem "Autobiography in Five Chapters" by actress, singer, author Portia Nelson (who wrote the book There's a Hole in My Sidewalk: The Romance of Self Discovery). "I read Portia's poem in the book, The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying, which is the teaching of Tibetan Buddhist philosophy," Reeves explains. "It really struck me; it spoke volumes on my own life. I started quoting it in my shows, then it took on a life of its own."
"Triste," an Antonio Carlos Jobim song played as a duo of hushed ebullience by Reeves and guitarist Lubambo, opens the Brazilian section of the show. To the audience, she cites the importance of touring with Sergio Mendes who introduced her to the Brazilian world of music. She then sings Milton Nascimento's beauty, "Bridges," the title track of her 1999 Blue Note album and a song that she used to sing when working with Mendes. Reeves concludes the Brazilian portion of the show with a percussive rendition of Cole Porter's "Love for Sale," highlighted by percussionist Munyungo Jackson's dazzling playing and the vocalist's fast scats.
For her gorgeous rendering of "Come In," Reeves invites George Duke to sit in on piano, introducing him as "my cousin, my friend, my counsel." The song, penned by Reeves, begins the final stretch of the recording which focuses on her own compositions (the exception being her crowd-pleasing interpretation of Leonard Cohen's modern-day classic "Suzanne," also from Bridges). Her originals include two more Bridges numbers, the rousing, funky-gospel/amazing-grace tune "Testify" and the equally groove-oriented "Mista." As for the new number, "The Best Times (Grandma's Song)"-a tender, deeply-personal narrative-Reeves says that she wanted to "tell another story from my life." She notes: "It's about the strong bonds of family, respect for elders, the building blocks of a child's spirit and mind."
Reeves says that she loves the way the live performance sounds on disc: "It's a real show, no fades, and it feels right on the edge. It captures the instincts and interplay between the band and me. Playing live puts you into an amazingly connected place. You're not thinking about what was or what will be, just what is right now. The freedom of the stage is that you can be yourself. I'm editing myself all day long in my regular life. When I'm on stage it is what it is."
As for the music on In the Moment, Reeves says that she believes music should be without boundaries. "This record spans many genres of music and pretty accurately encompasses what we do all the time. Night after night we play many songs, but we never perform them the same way twice. Everyone in the band commits to what the moment will bring and we know that with the moment comes many possibilities. That's always been the way I've approached a live performance."
© 2000 Blue Note Records