Grace, Strength, Joy, and Blessedness: Beautiful Life by Dianne Reeves

By Daniel Garrett

Dianne Reeves, Beautiful Life
Produced by Terri Lyne Carrington
Concord Music Group, 2013

Dianne Reeves is a gracefully mature singer, with beauty of sound, intelligence, pride, range, and taste. The song selection on her recording Beautiful Life is good and its production quality pristine. It is a very pleasing collection. Dianne Reeves brings depth, individuality, and warmth to everything she sings. “Dreams” and “Waiting in Vain” are two unique, late twentieth-century popular music standards, the first rock (Stevie Nicks) and the second reggae (Bob Marley), and here presented as jazz ballads with elegance and sensitivity. I thought “32 Flavors” was written by Reeves: it is a sharp refusal to be disrespected or disregarded: a critique from the margins that forces reconsideration of standards and status. It was written by Ani DiFranco. The older songs—“Stormy Weather” and “I Want You”—seem refreshed as well. It is a very strong album.

The Dianne Reeves discography is large, beginning with Dianne Reeves (1987) and Never Too Far (1990), I Remember (1991), and the thrilling Art & Survival (1994), on to other recordings and then In the Moment: Live in Concert (2000) and The Calling: Celebrating Sarah Vaughan (2001) and more, with more recent work including Music for Lovers (2007) and When You Know (2008). On Beautiful Life, the Leon Ware-Arthur Ross song “I Want You,” made famous by the incomparable Marvin Gaye, is given a jazz-soul fusion, mellow, sensual, with Dianne Reeves’s beautiful, exquisite control and shading. “Feel So Good (Lifted),” written by Reeves with Nadia Washington and the album’s producer Terri Lyne Carrington, is a message of personal consciousness-raising, with aspects of jazz and funk. Lovely, compassionate, “Dreams” has Robert Glasper on piano and Marvin Sewell on guitar; and Reeves gives thoughtful lines readings, and embellishments between some of the verses. Reeves performs a sultry duet with Gregory Porter, supported by Shadrick Mitchell on organ and Marvin Sewell on guitar, a performance that brings to mind Luther Vandross and Martha Wash on “I (Who Have Nothing),” one of the great love duets in music of all time. Very pretty is “Waiting in Vain,” which Annie Lennox sang on her album Medusa with more vulnerability, a touching enactment, though here Dianne Reeves gives the song more varied line readings.

A kind, strong but ignored woman declares her own value in “32 Flavors,” which also acknowledges the resentment some have for the thin and the famous. “I am a poster girl with no poster” and “one day you’re gonna get hungry and eat all the words you just said,” the narrator asserts. Reeves is explosive. It is a hard-charging statement, a corrective: truth is in the air. “I’m not trying to give my life meaning by demeaning you,” she adds.

A confident ballad of change and disappointment, “Cold,” written by Reeves with Terreon Gully and Peter Martin, has got tempo, and is not sludgy or sluggish. Esperanza Spalding plays bass on as Reeves sings Spalding’s “Wild Rose,” which uses gardens and wilderness as metaphors for art and independence; and Tineke Postma is on soprano sax on Harold Arlen and Ted Koehler’s “Stormy Weather,” which Reeves renders as less desperate than usual. With Raul Midon on trumpet, Reeves’ own “Tango” is forceful and elegant too. Most of the songs on Beautiful Life have different musical colors within them, making this a fine, satisfying album. “I’m here to help you flourish and grow…teach you everything I know,” sings Reeves in “Unconditional Love (For You),” which is almost wistful, with light scatting. “I wish you grace, strength, joy, and blessedness as you walk the long road,” states Reeves in a final encouragement for life’s journey in “Long Road Ahead.”

Daniel Garrett, a child of the American south, Louisiana, where he grew up reading, taking photographs, and enjoying fishing and a good summer barbecue, Daniel moved to New York and became a graduate of the New School for Social Research, was an intern at Africa Report, poetry editor for the male feminist magazine Changing Men, founded and acted as principal organizer of the Cultural Politics Discussion Group at ABC No Rio and Poets House, wrote about painter Henry Tanner for Art & Antiques, and organized the first interdepartmental environmental justice meeting at Audubon. Long interested in human complexity, intelligence, experiment, and cultural diversity, Garrett has researched various cultures, and he wrote about fiction and poetry for World Literature Today and international film for Offscreen, and has done music reviews that constitute a history of popular music for The Compulsive Reader.  His work has appeared as well in The African, All About Jazz, American Book Review, Black Film Review, Cinetext, Contact II, Film International, The Humanist, Hyphen, Illuminations, Muse Apprentice Guild, Option, Pop Matters, Quarterly Black Review of Books, Rain Taxi, Red River Review, Review of Contemporary Fiction, and Wax Poetics. He returned to the south, where he worked on philosophical fiction, the novel A Stranger on Earth.