Released August 19, 2003
Grammy Award for Best Jazz Vocal Album 2004
JazzTimes Top 10 Albums of 2003
Jazzweek No1 Year End Jazz Chart 2003
Following her Grammy-winning orchestral album “The Calling: Celebrating Sarah Vaughan”, jazz vocalist Dianne Reeves wished to return to a simpler, all-acoustic setting. So, in December 2002, Reeves entered Right Track studios in New York City with legendary producer Arif Mardin (Aretha Franklin, Norah Jones) to record “A Little Moonlight”, an intimate collection of ten tunes featuring her touring trio: pianist Peter Martin, bassist Reuben Rogers and drummer Greg Hutchinson.
“Most of the songs are about the moment you’re ready to fall in love, and the record features one of my loves, my trio-up-close and personal,” says Reeves. “I’ve had great groups over the years, but there is really something special playing with Peter, Reuben and Greg. We’ve worked together for so long that sometimes all it takes is a look to make the music come alive-and this record captures the magic between us.” Reeves covers classics — such as the upbeat and fun “What a Little Moonlight Can Do” and a slow and sweet rendition of “Skylark” — to lesser knowns such as the whimsical Richard Rogers tune “Loads of Love.” Commenting on the experience of working with Mardin, Reeves notes: “It’s so important to have someone on the other side of the glass who is really able to hear the music while you’re in the middle of it. While I have clear ideas about what I want to do in the studio, when Arif made suggestions, they were always dead-on.”
Says Mardin, the 2003 Grammy winning “Producer of the Year” on Norah Jones’ “Come Away with Me” “I like the simmering effect Dianne brings to a song. At times, she is like a diver springing off the board-jumping and hanging in the air, then rising even further while achieving one more perfectly executed twist.”
Reeves enjoyed a banner year in 2002, garnering a remarkable array of plaudits and special appearances: “The Calling” won a Grammy (her second, consecutively); she performed at the closing ceremony of the 2002 Olympic Winter Games in Salt Lake City; she sang on the season finale of HBO’s hit series “Sex and the City”; she received the Ella Fitzgerald Award at the Montreal International Jazz Festival; she was appointed the Creative Chair for Jazz of the Los Angeles Philharmonic (for which Reeves oversees the scheduling of jazz programming at both the Hollywood Bowl and Walt Disney Concert Hall); and she released a career-spanning compilation CD on Blue Note, The Best of Dianne Reeves.
A. Scott Galloway wrote in the “Best of…” liner notes: “Dianne Reeves is jazz’s replenishing empress. With her solar-powered contralto, expansive range, impeccable pitch and evocative writings, she has returned jazz to mother nature, reconnecting it to its earthen roots. A woman of strength and grace, she is an artist unencumbered by the shackles of categorization.” In spite of all the accolades, Reeves says, “I always have to remind myself of how far I’ve come in my career…and how far there is to go. The most rewarding thing is to be able to continue to sing with my heart and soul.” She fulfills that desire fully on “A Little Moonlight”.
In choosing the songs for the recording, Reeves says she tapped into her life experience. “On this album, I went with the flow-which can get you to places you never dreamed of going.” “A Little Moonlight” is steeped in a romantic sensibility. Case in point: the mesmerizing rendition of “Skylark.” Says Reeves: “That’s a song I’ve always wanted to sing. It’s a song that’s very special to me. The melody and harmony are beautiful, and the words are so sweet.”
From the Billie Holiday songbook comes “We’ll Be Together Again,” yet another simmering gem. A haunting version of “You Go to My Head,” features Nicholas Payton, whose voice-like trumpet lines enthrall. “Nicholas has such a beautiful sound,” Reeves enthuses. “It’s very round and it comes from a soulful place.” Reeves enlisted Romero Lubambo to join the trio on a soft, samba-like take on “I Concentrate on You”, and the gently rendered duet “Darn That Dream.” “Romero is a dear friend; we met in Brazil seven years ago and he has been on my last four albums.” The lead-off song of the collection, “Loads of Love,” is a hip and whimsical song that is “light-hearted and to the point. “It’s about what I want: ‘loads of lovely love.'” Key to the session’s success is Reeves’ high degree of camaraderie with her trio. The telepathic interplay between the players resulted in many of the songs requiring only one or two takes. A songwriter par excellence, Reeves opted not to include any originals on “A Little Moonlight”. “I selected romantic songs that I’ve been wanting to record for a long time,” she says. “This is my record of standards. The next will be different.” The first singer signed to the newly reactivated Blue Note label in 1987, Reeves states: “Blue Note is so supportive of its artists. There are so many unique voices here, and we have the freedom to document our music as we grow artistically.” As for Blue Note president Bruce Lundvall, Reeves says, “Bruce is one of the last great, larger-than-life record executives.” Said Lundvall, “By signing Dianne, I feel better about my own legacy.” The collection of musical gems in A Little Moonlight features Reeves in total command of her artistry. “While the most essential element of jazz is to be in the moment,” says Reeves, “I’m drawing more from my life experience on this recording-a deeper understanding of my life as a woman, a human being, a spirit.” And the result is the shimmering radiance of…a little moonlight.
1. Loads of Love (Richard Rodgers / Richard Rogers) 4:24
2. I Concentrate on You (Cole Porter) 5:20
3. Reflections (Jon Hendricks / Thelonious Monk) 5:12
4. Skylark (Hoagy Carmichael / Johnny Mercer) 6:52
5. What a Little Moonlight Can Do (J. Stewart / Harry Woods) 6:21
6. Darn That Dream (James Van Heusen) 4:46
7. I’m All Smiles (Michael Leonard) 5:58
8. Lullaby of Broadway (Al Dubin / Harry Warren) 5:35
9. You Go to My Head (J. Fred Coots / Haven Gillespie) 7:25
10. We’ll Be Together Again (Carl Fischer / Frankie Laine) 4:35
Gregory Hutchinson: drums
Dianne Reeves: vocals
Reuben Rogers: bass
Peter Martin: piano
Romero Lubambo: guitar
Nicholas Payton: trumpet
Recorded at Right Track Studios December 4-10, 2002
Producer: Arif Mardin
Mastered by Ted Jensen
Engineer: Michael O’Reilly
If there were any lingering doubts that Dianne Reeves isn’t a first-rate jazz singer, A Little Moonlight should dispel them forever. Reeves has proven herself a topflight vocalist in every category. She can certainly swing and sing the blues with credibility and conviction. Her delivery, phrasing and enunciation are excellent, and most important she’s a wonderful storyteller and communicator, something that’s certainly not true of every singer who gets lumped into the jazz/improvising category. She’s also able to perform repertory without sounding labored, derivative or imitative.
Despite doing several numbers on her newest release that merit the “shopworn” tag, Reeves truly does find ways to make them at least sound contemporary, as there’s probably no one living at this point who can make “Skylark,” “Darn That Dream” or “Lullaby of Broadway” seem fresh. Still, hearing her delightful scatting at the beginning of “Loads of Love,” a lesser-known Richard Rodgers composition, or her careful elaboration of the lyrics in “I Concentrate on You,” or the title track, Reeves continually reaffirms her master-vocalist credentials, singing without any coy or unnecessary mannerisms and delivering 10 tremendous examples of great interpretative popular singing. A testament to Reeves’ skill is that her rendition of “Make Sure You’re Sure,” one of Stevie Wonder’s lesser numbers, which was previously included in the soundtrack for Spike Lee’s Jungle Fever, doesn’t sound that out of place on a disc containing several exceptionally written pieces.
It also helps that she has an ace producer in Arif Mardin and a band committed to helping her fully execute the song rather than to highlight their own skills. Trumpeter Nicholas Payton does contribute some shimmering, high-register electricity on “We’ll Be Together Again,” and guitarist Romero Lubambo nicely embellishes the Afro-Latin mood of “I Concentrate on You” and the sentimental air of “I’m All Smiles.” Bassist Ruben Rogers was perfectly recorded; his huge tones resounding in the background are a welcome addition to the overall sound milieu, augmented by pianist Peter Martin and drummer Gregory Hutchinson.
While this isn’t a definitive statement album like her last one, The Calling, A Little Moonlight is another addition to Dianne Reeves’ glittering legacy.
Ron Wynn (JazzTimes)