Any doubts about the future of vocal jazz were dispelled Wednesday night at the Vine St. Bar & Grill. Dianne Reeves, whose recorded career has led her far astray from the jazz norm, showed during her opening set that she indeed could carry the banner for a new generation of jazz singers.
"This is what I like to do," Reeves told her audience, almost apologetically, "Sing some jazz."
Though many of her jazz efforts have been forestalled by steady concert work with Sergio Mendes and Harry Belafonte, the stunningly attractive Reeves took advantage of the intimacy of the Vine St. to sing a few standards and take a few risks with some adventurous new music.
Everything she did, from the classic "Our Love Is Here to Stay," taken at a breakneck tempo, to the spectacular Max Roach-Abbey Lincoln piece, "Freedom Day," worked like a charm.
There is no one thing that Reeves does best. Blessed with an extraordinary voice and a disarming stage personality, Reeves perfectly intoned Duke Ellington's "I Got It Bad and That Ain't Good" and made Rodgers and Hart's "My Funny Valentine" an exclusive signature piece with the unique incorporation of swing, funk and the blues.
Had she merely reprised "Valentine" a few more times during her set, Reeves could easily have satisfied the jazz needs of the audience, but fortunately she went on to do an enchanting Latin number, "Ancient Source," and a modern folk-and gospel-influenced "Better Days," a remarkable tune of her own making about her grandmother.
Equally remarkable was a chain-gang chant called "Be My Husband." Accompanied solely and soulfully by the tasty drumming of Ralph Penland, Reeves delved deep into the tradition of the Negro spiritual and came up with a contemporary rap piece.
Reeves receives considerable help from her trio. Penland's drumming was exceptional throughout the set, as was the bass of Tony Dumas. Pianist Billy Childs performed perfectly, especially on the ballad numbers and a lightly swinging rendition of Billie Holiday's "God Bless the Child."