With strong, agile voice, rhythmic artistry and improvisational virtuosity, jazz vocalist Dianne Reeves dazzled a blue-ribbon audience shoehorned into the Napa Valley Opera House's brand new Café Theatre Thursday night.
Last night's generous concert by the Denver-based singer was but a preview of the first public performance in the Napa Valley Opera House in 88 years, scheduled for tonight.
Located on the ground floor, the Café Theatre is an intimate cabaret seating 180 with limited standing room. It's a choice space to see and hear entertainers as sightlines and acoustics are ideal.
There were a few sound glitches Thursday evening, but they should be cleared up before tonight's sellout crowd pours through the doors.
Reeves proved a marvelous choice for the Opera House's premiere engagement. A consummate artist, she's gracious, friendly, embraces a variety of music styles and is decidedly easy on the eye.
A paragon of perfect phrasing, the 45-year-old singer carries the baton for such jazz divas as Sarah Vaughan and Ella Fitzgerald. In fact, Reeves was inspired by Vaughan to make singing a career.
"She helped me find my musical voice," Reeves told the rapt crowd. "Listening to her records, I discovered I wanted to sing."
Reeve's newest recording, the Grammy Award-winning "The Calling," is a tribute to Sarah Vaughan. A substantial portion of the singer's opening 50-minute set was devoted to works recorded by The Divine One, songs that recalled Vaughan yet showcased the warm expressive alto and wide musical vocabulary that is Dianne Reeves.
Peppered with lively scatting, George Shearing's "Lullaby of Birdland" came from the latest CD, as did George Gershwin's celebration of structure and tempo, "Fascinating Rhythm."
A warm and fuzzy rendition of "Misty" recalled evenings spent curled up with a stack of Sassy's recordings.
Incorporating the singer's improvised instrumental intro to Bob Haymes' classic melody, "That's All" — with its swinging, uptempo mode and playful tweak to Alan Brandt's lyrics — gave us cause to cheer.
I think we can rest easy knowing that jazz vocal tradition is in good hands. Reassurances came Thursday night not only in a remarkable original work — a magical recollection of carefree childhood called "Nine" — but also in a haunting, soul-searching rendition of the Leonard Cohen classic, "Suzanne."
But the be-all and end-all number came close to the end of the second 50-minute set in Mongo Santamaria and Oscar Brown Jr.'s "Afro Blue." The dizzying blend of Afro/Latin rhythms and lyrics threaded throughout an uptempo whirlwind of percussion and vocalese. It's one of the finest moments in live wine country musicmaking history.
In fact, Reeves' performance as a whole ranks right up there with the best — the classics indelibly etched in our minds during the '80s and '90s. When we recall and talk about Antonio Carlos Jobim, Harry Belafonte, Tony Bennett, Johnny Mathis, Ella Fitzgerald and Sarah Vaughan's memorable summer performances over the years, added to the mix will be Dianne Reeve's musical launch of the Grand Old Lady of Main Street.
If you hurry, you may be able to lock up a standing room ticket to tonight's concert. If not, check out the performances Saturday night of Tim Hockenberry, Kith & Kin, Marnie Breckenridge and Soleá.
You may pinch yourself when you realize this is a first-class, big city nightclub right here in downtown Napa. Drop by and enjoy.