Musical Performance: ****
Sound Quality: ****
Overall Enjoyment: ****
Concord Jazz once released almost nothing but jazz recordings. The label’s name has since been changed to Concord Records, and now they seek out artists in transition who are embracing and reimagining a wide range of styles.
Diane Reeves is such an artist. Revered for her jazz recordings, on Beautiful Life she includes enough R&B, soul, pop, and Latin music that we can say that jazz is now merely an influence, not the main course. One thing Reeves hasn’t changed is her full, gorgeous voice -- now darkened and warmed, it sounds even better than before. Also intact are her accuracy of pitch and sensitivity of phrasing; hers is a great voice that has mellowed in the best possible ways. Terri Lyne Carrington produced the album, and seems totally committed to creating the sound that best shows off Reeves’s voice.
The Marvin Gaye classic “I Want You” starts things off in a funky mood with some incredibly sensuous singing and some equally appealing trumpet playing from Sean Jones. “Feels So Good (Lifted)” follows, and features Reeves’s famous cousin, the keyboardist George Duke. The next song might surprise some: Stevie Nicks’s “Dream,” an iconic hit for the Fleetwood Mac singer. Reeves does a great job of making the spellbinding tune work on her own terms.
Carrington’s “Satiated (Been Waiting),” a duo with Gregory Porter, and Bob Marley’s “Waiting in Vain” preface Ani DiFranco’s “32 Flavors,” which is given a funky soul-chant twist. “Cold” follows -- a smoky ballad about moving on beyond a broken relationship.
Arlen and Koehler’s classic “Stormy Weather” is given a slow, somber, sultry performance that gives Reeves a chance to show off her incredible range, including some high notes that elicit chills. “Tango,” a tour de force, follows. About this wordless composition, Reeves says, “I perform this song throughout the world and wherever I go the spirit of my improvised vocals are completely understood. I have been so inspired and enthralled by so many singers whose lyrics I didn’t comprehend like Celia Cruz, Miriam Makeba, Elis Regina, Angélique Kidjo, Cesária Évora and the list goes on . . .” “Tango” is certainly evidence that music is the universal language.
Concord has provided sumptuous sound for Reeves’s debut on the label. Though there’s much evidence of mixing and remixing, the end result sounds very smooth. Beautiful Life was recorded at Kaleidoscope Sound in Union, New Jersey, with additional recording at four other locations, but no seams show. From shimmering struck cymbals down to well-focused, subterranean bass -- all sounding warm, all clean as a whistle -- the album will provide a good workout for your system.
Beautiful Life is sure to please fans of Diana Reeves while keeping quite happy her newer listeners. This pleasing amalgam of styles works on its own terms, is exceptionally well recorded, and, all in all, is the very impressive first fruit of a partnership that should thrive.
. . . Rad Bennett