On Friday night, Stanford Live hosted regal jazz singer Dianne Reeves in Bing Concert Hall. Accompanied only by guitarists Romero Lubambo and Russell Malone, she delivered a raw and stunning performance, demonstrating why many critics consider her to be among the best voices in jazz today.
But I hesitate to limit my praise so blindly — her performance at Bing reached heights far beyond the scope of jazz. While she is often considered a torchbearer for vocal jazz legends Ella Fitzgerald and Sarah Vaughan, it would be foolish to ignore the broader range of her talent. Over the course of a 14-piece set, Reeves sang swinging jazz standards, Afro-Cuban infused scat improvisation, danceable bossa nova, hushed ballads and powerful Delta blues. Her vocal prowess, highlighted by an incredible range and rare levels of control, rang beautifully through the hall.
Flanking Reeves on either side were two extraordinary guitarists — hence the name of their tour, “Strings Attached.” To her right sat Brazilian jazz giant Lubambo, wielding a nylon-string classical guitar, offering blazing solos and brisk rhythmic accompaniment. On Reeves’s left sat the versatile Malone who, with his trusted Gibson L5 archtop guitar, played with blue grace and colorful harmony.
This combination of nylon and steel strings is uncommon, but Lubambo and Malone used the distinct sounds of their individual instruments to create a unique accompaniment for Reeves. Whenever two guitarists take the stage together, there’s the fear that they’ll step on each other’s toes — that they’ll drown out each other’s ideas with muddled harmonies and redundant notes. But Lubambo and Malone allayed these concerns with grace, complementing rather than complicating each other’s sound.
The synergy that the three displayed on Friday is uncommon among musicians, and stems from a long-term, dedicated collaboration. Reeves, Lubambo and Malone have been touring together on-and-off for years. On Friday night, the sparse set-up and the trio’s relaxed presence gave the night the intimate feel of a house gig, with the musicians seeming to be playing for each other’s pleasure more than anything else.
The joy on stage was obvious, in Reeves’s spontaneous ooh’s and aah’s during Malone’s solos, in the wrinkles of Lubambo’s rapturous smile, and in the looks they all shared which seemed to say, watch what I’m about to do next. Reeves’s effortless performance was marked by genuine delight. She engaged the audience with playful comments and stories — some sung and some spoken — which revealed the dynamic nature of her talent. She told of her experiences acting for George Clooney and sneaking soul into Bach chorales, and finished the show with a cheeky comment about Bing’s acoustics, singing, “this is better than my shower.” Overall, she seemed overjoyed to be playing with two close friends, and the feeling was infectious.
The truth is that this show could have been a solo concert for any of the three on stage and Bing would have been just as packed. Each has the alluring talent required to fill just about any hall. But the fact that they choose to tour together, to serve the music and each other, is something special.