RIVERSIDE — An ill-fated shopping trip this afternoon (12/7/12) sucked the Christmas spirit right out of me. Jazz giant Dianne Reeves breathed it right back in.
Her Hancher concert tonight in the Riverside Casino Event Center was sublime in every sense of the word. The Denver diva, 56, is at the top of her form, the shining star leading the way for female jazz singers around the world.
She brings a global mix to her stylings, her fascinating rhythms wrapped in Afro-Caribbean beats from her years touring with Harry Belafonte in the ’80s and sultry Brazilian infusions from her band’s guitarist, Romero Lubambo of Rio de Janeiro.
She is one with her stellar band of brothers — musical director Peter Martin of St. Louis on piano, Reginald Veal of New Orleans on upright and electric bass, Terreon Gully of East St. Louis on drums and Lubambo on acoustic and electric guitars. Their music has an exciting improvisational feel, but they are always in synch, always united in the symbiotic way their paths separate and entwine, bringing smiles of glee and satisfaction to their faces and ours.
Everything they feel surges through their audience. The 507 people bathed in Reeves’ holiday Hancher glow showered her with spontaneous bursts of applause throughout the show, displaying their appreciation not only for her luscious, luminous moments, but for the sheer magnitude of her bandmates’ musicality and finesse.
While the title of her concert –”Christmas Time is Here” — hearkens to tradition, only the lyrics are traditional. Everything else is new and fresh and totally unexpected. She takes the melodies, turns them inside out and spins them through the magical arrangements, making you feel like you’re hearing the most familiar songs for the very first time.
Her band started the nearly two-hour show, giving us a taste of the evening’s unusual turns, from Latin-laced guitar to sizzling syncopation so hot it was totally cool. The bedazzling Reeves, in a casually elegant mix of cream colored knit top and sparkling gold skirt, then launched into a cascade of oohs, leading into “The Twelfth of Never” that never sounded so good.
She then sang her greeting to us, inviting us to sit back and relax, clap our hands, stomp our feet and dance up and down the aisle. “We like it that way,” she said, and we liked it her way — bringing chromatic dissonance to “Carol of the Bells,” regaling us with stories from her life, told at family Christmas gatherings past, and singing a most glorious tribute to her spirited mother who died in May.
The evening was intimate, joyous and heart-warming, with a touch of exotic sensuality enveloping “The Christmas Waltz” and bringing a velvety smoothness to “Misty,” in a tribute to her idol, Sarah Vaughan. (I dare say no one scats like Reeves, who keeps it always mellow, always dreamy and never frenetic.)
One of the highlights of the evening enveloped all that is beautiful and exciting about her artistry, with “The Little Drummer Boy” getting his groove on, thanks to Gully’s funky, progressive intro before Reeves and the rest joined in. I’ll never hear that song again without thinking fondly of Reeves’ imaginative, entertaining rendition.
And that’s how I’ll always remember this glimmering, glittering event announcing that Christmas time is, indeed, here.