I told you, Charleston. The place to be last night was the Gaillard Auditorium where Dianne Reeves and her boys, guitarists Romero Lubambo and Russell Malone, made it hotter inside than out. I strolled around the lobby, eavesdropping on conversations as I took in the large, mixed crowd. There were young and old, black and white, artists and musicians and vocalists and those of us who just dig vocal jazz. And bless us she did, even invoking a moment before her final bow to wish us all “peace and light” as she left the stage, guitarists in tow.
A very simple set met the sell-out audience at the Gaillard. There were three stools, two amps, two guitars on stands, and a small table center stage covered in black cloth, holding two water glasses and a vase of flowers in a small pool of light. The backdrop was a curtain that played light very well, shimmering upstage of the action with a break-up pattern (a gobo, for those of you in the know) to give some added visual interest in case the music wasn’t enough. It was. It was more than enough.
Ms. Reeves was in good voice, running up and down the scale from the attic to the basement from the center stool, a place she called “a sweet seat.” She was talking about sitting between her two extraordinary musicians. “The first time I played with these two five years ago,” she said between songs, “I thought to myself, ‘Oh, no. What is this gonna be? I was so used to singing with my band or having an orchestra — something more.’ Well,” she said grinning, “less is really more.” And for two solid hours, Reeves proved that adage true.
If you haven’t heard her 2008 album, When You Know, and you missed this opportunity to hear her with Malone and Lubambo as they made two guitars sound like a whole lot more, take a listen. When You Know‘s “Social Call was the third song of the evening and it was simply outstanding. Reeves’ voice peaked and plummeted, rolling soprano to alto with ease.
Perhaps her biggest hit of the night with this audience was a song she scatted a cappella before bringing in Lubambo and Malone. Two minutes in, the three of them took turns soloing as she colorized the vocal phrases with fingers moving up and down the scale just as her voice did or as if she were playing a horn; it seemed as if the Spanish flavored song was being accompanied by a much larger band. I swear I heard a squeeze box and perhaps a mandolin. But it was just them, calling out and answering one another in magical musical riffs. Ms. Reeves finally began to sing the song, using real words, and the audience roared. “Perhaps you’ve figured out this song doesn’t have any words,” she explained. While jet-lagged and in bed at her hotel in Buenos Aires, listlessly channel surfing, she came to a station where a woman was singing “just like that,” she said, referencing her scat, and was moved to join in. Reeves explained she had no idea what the woman was saying but she got up out of the bed and said, “Sing it, girl.” And the experience is now part of her set.
It’s clear her musicians are much more than her accompanists; they soloed entire songs through the night. Reeves would sit on stage, in the middle of them, smiling like a young girl or drumming her fingers on her legs, tapping her feet, and occasionally just singing an ahhh or an oooh very lightly behind them. She shared stories about traveling, singing, and creating with them. They were playful with one another, taking easy moments on stage to support one another with applause or nods or shakes of the head.
Reeves sang some new stuff, including another signature anthem that ended with about 16 bars of “Endangered Species.” I used “Endangered Species” as a teaching tool for my daughter when she was about eight. I’m hoping now that she is 16, this new anthem will become part of her learning about herself again. We heard “Today Will Be a Good Day,” a song she penned for her mother who she informed us will be 87 years old on June 18 and “is 86 and still doing tricks” to much laughter. Oh, Dianne Reeves sang and sang and sang.
Reeves only stood up to leave — and then to come back, this time without her high-heeled red sandals — to give us a little more after an evening of giving us so much. But it was clear from the sustained, thunderous applause that we knew, more was more.