Grandeur with refinement: that describes the aura of Dianne Reeves, whose concert at Jazz at Lincoln Center’s Rose Hall on Friday evening revealed her more than ever to be the vocal heir of Sarah Vaughan, whose voice could also travel anywhere. To call Ms. Reevesa warbler or a songbird isn’t just to trot out shopworn terms for a female jazz singer, but to point out how many of her introductions to songs are wordless, improvised exercises in tonal coloration.
Hiroyuki Ito for The New York Times
The singer Dianne Reeves performed on Friday at Jazz at Lincoln Center's Rose Hall.
A Jazz Singer Demonstrates the Fine Art of Holding Back
Dianne Reeves at Jazz at Lincoln Center
These preludes have the feel of preparatory meditations before Ms. Reeves plunges into fresh musical territory. Within the semi-orchestral settings of her band — Peter Martin on piano, Romero Lubambo and Peter Sprague on guitars, Reginald Veal on bass and Terreon Gully on drums — the drums kept a lower-than-average profile. Rather than punching out hard rhythm, they supplied complex textural seasoning. Instrumental solos were tasty but never ostentatious.
That lack of exhibitionism also characterized the way Ms. Reeves treated many of her songs as internal monologues. A major exception was a lusty blues rendition of “One for My Baby (and One More for the Road),” in which she flirted with gut-busting volume, building the song up slowly to a crest, before gradually subsiding. Even at its peak, you sensed power held in reserve. Her restraint created its own kind of suspense, as you waited to see how far she would go.
“Stormy Weather,” a song that most singers belt to the rafters, was reconceived as a private struggle; rather than dramatize her sorrow, she fought to contain it. For sheer gorgeousness there was nothing to match two numbers — Bob Marley’s “Waiting in Vain,” its reggae pulse smoothed out, and a playful bossa-nova-flavored “Our Love Is Here to Stay” — in which Ms. Reeves’s voice danced with Mr. Lubambo’s sparkling guitar. During a light jazz-funk rendition of Ani DiFranco’s “32 Flavors” Ms. Reeves dug deeply into this defiant feminist retort to an insult that is also a proclamation of individual complexity: “I am a poster girl with no poster/I am 32 flavors and then some.”
Prefacing her own song “Nine,” an idyllic reminiscence of childhood, Ms. Reeves remarked that she was watching the news less these days, the better to celebrate innocence. As she sang of “running endless through a field of emerald green beneath a broad open sky” and of a time when “any child could wear a paper crown and be a king or queen at 9,” you wanted to follow her back to an age “when our imaginations soared on golden wings.” As the song makes clear, it is not about escaping reality but about rediscovering a personal source of spiritual nourishment.