Reeves Sparkles in the "Moonlight"

My first live encounter with Dianne Reeves was at a Town Hall jazz benefit concert honoring “heroes and victims” of September 11th held that December. The array of talent included Jason Moran, Brad Mehldau, Kenny Barron, Ron Carter, Béla Fleck, Benny Golson, Joe Lovano and many others, but the appearance that stayed with me was Ms. Reeves’s. She literally lit up the stage with both positive energy and a big voice that was stunning for its clarity, phrasing precision and tonal purity. Forget the technical perfection though, Reeves connected with a directed force that no other performer that evening matched. It’s a force you will feel on every track on this effervescent disc.

Everyone’s made comparisons to Sarah Vaughan and Reeves made that easier by issuing last year’s Grammy Award winning The Calling: Celebrating Sarah Vaughan. This intimate set of romantic standards, recorded with her trio, showcases all of Reeves’s muscular vocal strengths and interpretative talents. She manages to imbue the songs with meaning without afflicting them with syrupy mannerisms. There’s a crystalline clarity of both line and purpose in her vocal choices, and in the simple instrumental arrangements for the trio’s classic bass, drums and piano lineup that adds up to one of the most enjoyable, exuberant vocal discs in some time.

Reeves chose the ten tunes, which include standards like Hoagy Carmichael’s breezy “Skylark,” Cole Porter’s slinky “I Concentrate on You,” and “You Go to My Head” (with Nicholas Payton on trumpet) which transcends the “standards” category and proceeds directly to “chestnut” status. The set opener, Richard Rogers’s bouncy “Loads of Love,” from the 1962 Broadway show “No Strings” sets the overall easy mood of the disc, though the highlight for me is the introspective “Reflections,” written by Thelonious Monk, with lyrics added by Jon Hendricks. The guitarist Romero Lubambo adds some fireside intimacy on 3 tracks—especially on the gorgeous “Darn That Dream.”

Arif Mardin’s production is simple and upfront, with just a bit of studio lip gloss on top of Reeves’s voice and an occasional trailing edge of sparkly reverb. The bass/drums/piano trio is nicely rendered and arrayed across the stage, though the miking sounds as if it’s fairly close, and the recording lacks the organic warmth of Norah Jones’s Blue Note debut.

Reeves already has a greatest hits album out on Blue Note—she was the first signing when Blue Note was resuscitated in the mid-eighties and has ten discs to her credit—so if you’re unfamiliar, this new set, rather than a compilation, makes for a stellar introduction to an outstanding, and easy to love vocalist singing about falling in love.