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Dianne Reeves: In the Moment: Live in Concert

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Until the release of this vibrant live album, Dianne Reeves’ recordings have failed to capture the beauty and energy of her club and concert performances. Has she been intimidated by the clinical, this-is-forever ambience of the recording studio, or is she a perfectionist who compulsively refines the vitality out of her CDs? Whatever the reason, those bland albums offered only a faint echo of the pleasure of experiencing this commanding singer in person.

In the Moment documents two Reeves performances recorded last January at the Studio Instruments Rentals Sound Stage in Los Angeles. Appearing before admiring, invited audiences, Reeves offers what amounts to a career retrospective, revisiting songs and musical genres that she’s explored since her 1982 recording debut.

After a somewhat meandering invocatory “Morning Is Broken,” Reeves hits her stride with a driving “Afro Blue” and two delicate Brazilian voice-and-guitar duets with Romero Lubambo, “Triste” and “Bridges.” Even the venerable “Love for Sale” gets a facelift in a salsa setting that builds to a pulsating climax with her accompanists providing backup vocals. With the exception of a welcome revival of Leonard Cohen’s enigmatic “Suzanne,” the second half of the concert consists of Reeves’ own compositions, including “Come In,” featuring a guest appearance by her cousin, producer-keyboardist George Duke, the reverent “Testify” and the funky closer, “Mista.”

Live albums usually contain flaws that would have been corrected on studio recordings. Few of these are evident on In the Moment, which reflects Reeves’ professionalism; each song has been rehearsed and polished to a fine sheen. Even in concert, she avoids the heedless spontaneity of a risk-taking vocal improviser like Sheila Jordan though, intriguingly, on two tracks-“The First Five Chapters” and “The Best Times (Grandma’s Song)”-she follows Jordan’s example by musically narrating autobiographical experiences.

Fusing elements of jazz, R&B, Latin, gospel and pop, Reeves’ work is difficult to classify. But her spirited singing makes In the Moment one of the most successful live recordings in recent memory.