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July/August 1999

Dianne Reeves
Bridges
Blue Note Records

We've lost Sarah, Carmen, Ella and Betty in this decade and with each passing, the critics bemoan the dearth of next-generation jazz singers fit to walk in their pumps. Rather than marginalizing young vocalists in no-win comparisons with the masters, we oughtta be about flexing fresh criteria ... new paradigms. Ain't Joni Mitchell as tonally complex as Carmen, don't Erykah Badu work a nappy blues like Dinah, can't Chaka groove the highs and lows like Betty Roche?

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Johanna Goodman

illustration of Dianne Reeves

For that matter, what about Dianne Reeves? A vocalist who can shake the jazz out of R&B and gospel, hold her own with Sergio Mendes and Herbie Hancock, croon Quiet Storm/swing a big band and kick the hell outta "The Twelfth Of Never", "Exactly Like You" and "Morning Has Broken" (in the same album) Reeves can't be pigeonholed. If she ain't a "jazz" diva then what you talkin' ‘bout Willis? Judging by the consummate artistry and poetic pop-soul-folk sweep of her ninth album Bridges, Dianne Reeves don't care what you think. Fully aware that jazz can't work if the vibe ain't right, Reeves has gathered a fierce crew of spirit-cosmic friends and family (including producer/uncle George Duke, Mulgrew Miller, Kenny Garrett, Stanley Clarke) together.

Reeves' biorhythmic player engineering lifts her vocals to whole new levels of lyric-melody-rhythm shape-shifting. You can hear the difference in the way her saxophone-like contralto languidly works every syllable-word-space-in-between of Mitchell's star-crossed Christmas elegy "River" ("I would teach my feet to fly-ay-Ay-oh-oh-ohoah-ah-ayyyy") like Lester Young ‘til it becomes a beautifully sad poem of paradise lost; in the haunting, starry-eyed way she croons "And you'll be happy... yeyooo'lll be happy ... tooo-oo"; in "Make Someone Happy", the sharp, sweetest pain of her voice cracking ("We-e-'ll h-awh-ave Nothing to say"); in the middle of the Sassy-spirit-homage version of Milton Nascimento's immortal "Bridges".

There's so much more goin' throughout Bridges. The overdubbed choir/piano wordless prayer "Olokun"; the sugar shack harp wail/black kitten moan of "Mista"; "1863"'s rambling piano, rumbling drum ‘n' bass, griot chant-song, chorale roundelays; the ... man, it's all good.

Originally published in July/August 1999
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