To make a tribute album to Sarah Vaughan is like paying court to the queen. Vaughan was beyond standard-bearer. With a voice that resonated with supreme nobility and magnitude throughout a career that spanned nearly 50 years until her death in 1990, she was her own genre. To compare Dianne Reeves to the Divine One is not only pointless, it's unfair.
As Reeves's second homage to a great diva (the first was a Nina Simone compilation for Verve in 1997) and her eleventh full-length release, The Calling is the culmination of fifteen years of careful study. From the liner notes devoted almost exclusively to Vaughan, to Reeve's composition "I Remember Sarah," it's clear that this star pupil considers Vaughan her prime influence and inspiration. The other track included here that was not a Vaughan standard is Milton Nascimento's haunting "A Chamada" ("The Call"), itself a nod to Vaughn's three Brazilian jazz albums and her work with Nascimento on her album I Love Brazil. However reverent, the singing on The Calling is pure Reeves.
Released the day before Valentine's and adorned with red roses, the 35-piece orchestral luxury on The Calling seems at first blush to say "Babs." But on the opener, "Lullaby of Birdland," Reeves swings with artful jazz phrasings and then breaks into hot streaks of scat. This is not soft-jazz or background music for the love nest. It's compelling while still romantically inspiring. Reeves's voice dims the lights and drapes the room in velvet and, hey, who lit the candles?
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Consistent with her previous work, Reeves flirts with contemporary pop stylings while remaining firmly rooted in jazz. This is partly owing to the arrangements of pianist Billy Childs, who returns the well-worn "Send in the Clowns" to a dissonant reflection on life, void of its usual syrupy sentimentality. With each song that follows, she bounces across styles, from Kurt Weill's "Speak Low," to the Brazilian-flavored "Obsession," to the Vaughan classic "Key Largo." This style-hopping can be discomfiting but here it displays the beauty and richness of Reeves's voice. Her wide range, control, and elegant sensuality comes through, keeping the shades drawn and the heat turned up.