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Dianne Reeves: Charm and Precision

April 9, 2011

If I were a female singer and heard Dianne Reeves perform live, I might throw in the microphone and try get my job back at the doughnut shop.

On whose score sheet can it possibly be fair that Reeves, 54, has that much charm, that much beauty and that much talent all wrapped into one package? And how can you not love a performer who sweetly sings her welcome to the audience at each and every show?

Reeves brought all that, along with an accomplished and impressive quartet, to the Wisconsin Union Theater on the UW-Madison campus Friday. What looked to be a capacity crowd was rapt in its attention throughout two hours of classic and original jazz vocal interpretation. The only exception was the young couple who danced to two numbers at the foot of the stage, almost as if they were part of the performance.

Reeves’ slow, languid style rarely strikes a fever pitch. That role is reserved for the band, anchored by keyboard player Peter Martin and featuring the outstanding Brazilian guitarist Romaro Lumbambo. Even without the singer, the quartet could have held the evening on its own had it wanted to do so. Reeves understands talent and certainly knows how to find it.

The playlist mixed interpretations of pop and classic numbers, from “The Twelfth of Never” to “Stormy Weather,” with Reeves’ elegant scatting — two words I have never before used together — serving to augment her rhythm section. From When You Know, her last album released in 2008, the singer pulled Betty Carter’s “Social Call,” Michel Legrand’s “The Windmills of Your Mind” and “Just My Imagination,” the old Temptations hit that she tuned into a singalong. (“I knew you knew that one,” she said.)

“Our Love is Here to Stay” served as the most unlikely source for an extended rave-up that allowed the band a showcase, with superb interpretations by both Martin and Lumbambo. The evening also was peppered with Reeves’ original compositions, giving us a more intimate look at the singer’s past and innermost feelings. That’s part of the performer’s trademark and adds depth, humor and emotion to each performance.

Dianne Reeves may be the last of the great divas, someone whose interpretive powers are rivaled only by the beauty of her voice. No matter what your musical taste, I am sure you would agree that she is a treasure comprised of one part charm, one part musical precision and encompassing a whole that far outweighs the sum of its parts.

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