Dianne Reeves' soulful new journey

ON POPULAR MUSIC

April 17, 2008|By RASHOD D. OLLISON

All of her beautiful dreads are gone, so I almost didn't recognize Dianne Reeves.

On the cover of the jazz singer's new CD - the glowing When You Know, released this week - straightened, lustrous hair falls over one side of her smiling face. Those regal, kinky locks that once flowed down her back had to go.

"Fifteen years - it was time," the artist says. "When they were out, it was the start of another chapter, another journey."

And that personal metamorphosis echoes through the soul-expanding music on the new album. It's the follow-up to Good Night, And Good Luck, the 2005 soundtrack to the George Clooney movie in which Reeves prominently appeared and sang. Her performances on the album earned the Detroit-born, Colorado-raised singer her fourth Grammy. Reeves' previous three albums - In the Moment (2000), The Calling (2001) and A Little Moonlight (2003) - all earned golden gramophones in the vocal jazz category.

But the ever-restless Reeves takes a different musical turn on When You Know. Largely eschewing selections from the Great American Songbook, the artist, 51, focuses instead on more contemporary standards - songs she first heard in the late '60s and in the '70s.

"I've kind of hinted at this direction on other records," says Reeves, who last week was preparing for shows in Switzerland. "I had been touring with two guitarists, Russell Malone and Romero Lubambo, and we had gone over so many songs - a lot of great songs that caused a lot of good conversations. ... I wanted the album to be a more guitar-driven record but jazz-oriented."

The 10-cut CD opens with a swaying, mink-soft version of "Just My Imagination," the Temptations classic. Reeves employs a richer, fuller vocal approach than the almost gossamer falsetto Eddie Kendricks used on the dreamy original. That moonlit performance gives way to "Over the Weekend," a stunning ballad and my favorite cut on the set. I first heard the song on an old Nancy Wilson album: 1967's Lush Life. That's also where Reeves initially heard the reflective lyrics of loneliness, which were originally recorded by the great cabaret singer Mabel Mercer.

"I loved that Nancy Wilson album, and `Over the Weekend' was one of my favorite songs on there," Reeves says. "I sang it at a tribute for her, and she said, `You've got to record it.' That was enough for me. So I did."

Reeves also refreshes an unlikely tune: "Lovin' You," the syrupy Minnie Riperton smash from 1975. The song was ubiquitous during the singer's senior year of high school.

"I was getting ready to leave [and] had no idea what was out there for me," Reeves says. "I was in this place of exploration and thought I was in love. That song was out at the time, and it still puts a smile in my heart."

The singer doesn't attempt Riperton's otherworldly high notes. They're not in her range, anyway. Instead, the song is done as a light, guitar-driven samba. Where the late Riperton sounded girlish on the original, Reeves infuses her performance with grown-woman sensuality.

But not all of the remakes work. The take on Dusty Springfield's "The Windmills of Your Mind" is overwrought and is the only song on the album that Reeves doesn't fully inhabit. When You Know was produced by the great George Duke, the singer's cousin. He surrounds her with mostly slick arrangements, warmed by organic instrumentation and occasionally accented with blooming orchestral touches. Reeves' voice - a dazzling instrument whose power could blow curtains off windows - anchors it all.

After living with the album for about a month, there's one thing I noticed each time I spun it: Reeves sounds like a rooted woman in love with life. I share this with her, hoping I'm not being too presumptuous.

"That's exactly what I want people to get from the record," she says. "I hope people feel the peace and the joy that's in this record, because that's what I have in my life now. My vision is really clear. I feel good about things around me."

rashod.ollison@baltsun.com

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