The audience reaction to Dianne Reeves at the Sydney Opera House was tremendous. My friend Colin noted that he’d never seen such a reaction to a performer there. “Does she know that Sydney audiences don’t do this?”, he whispered in my ear, as people got to their feet just before intermission.
I first saw her during last year’s Sydney Festival. At the time I thought it was one of the best shows I’d ever seen in my life. Her vocal range was terrific. As much as her upper range could soar, almost piercing your ears, her lower range could literally cause the theatre floor to vibrate.
Likewise, her musical range was also fairly broad. Of course there were a number of standards such as “Twelfth Of Never” and “You Go To My Head” (which almost made me cry) and I guess even Leonard Cohen’s “Suzanne” could now be declared a classic. But in explaining that throughout history jazz musicians have always “jazzified” the contemporary songs of their day, she led into a number by Joan Armatrading. There was also a number by Peter Gabriel and Chris, a work colleague who was there, observed there was also a refrain from a Joni Mitchell song, though he couldn’t recall which. In fact, there were several times when I could also pick up recurrent themes from popular songs but, long before I could identify them, the musicians had moved on. As I wandered home I was on a total high, humming her final tune most of the way there.
Last night’s show was quite different. A tribute to the work of Sarah Vaughn with the Sydney Symphony Orchestra. Although I’m not an expert on orchestral music, I’ve sometimes felt the SSO tends to overplay “popular music”, although it could be a characteristic of the acoustics of the Sydney Symphony Orchestra. Thus, there were occasions last night when I felt this concert failed to live up to the show I saw eighteen months ago.
However, there were some incredibly amazing moments. The highlights for me were her performances of “Embraceable You” (which showcased her magnificent vocal range), “Misty” (loook… at…me………) and “Send In The Clowns” (wildly dramatic and with a totally unexpected musical thematic variation). There were also a couple of pieces I don’t know the names of, combing the orchestra and her style of scat-singing gorgeosly in a wild celebratory orchestral jazz style. One in particular, combined the percusiveness of the scat-style with hand-clapping by the orchestra in a joyous, dramatic moment. It was for me, THE highlight of the night.
In some ways, last night’s show wasn’t as mind-blowing for me as her performance eighteen months ago. I thought it was a little more “staged”, a little less spontaneous, a little more scripted, and maybe lacking some of the surprise of the State Theatre show last summer. But I still loved the show, and I can’t wait for her to come back again.