in performance: the count basie orchestra featuring diane schuur

diane schuur.

diane schuur.

Having already scaled the heights of soul, sass and swing during a 45 minute set with the Count Basie Orchestra, Diane Schuur turned the show’s cheer meter way, way up by serving a slice of sterling gospel last night at Danville’s Norton Center for the Arts. The tune was Climbing Higher Mountains, a spiritual recast for then-modern times in 1972 by Aretha Franklin. Schuur’s own history with the tune is similarly extensive, having recorded it with the Basie Orchestra in 1987 on an album that won Grammys for both acts.

Last night’s version played out on Schuur’s own terms, though, with vocals full of jubilant clarity that reflected the singer’s still-potent range, decisive phrasing and innate ability to fashion any song or style into a session of jazz and blues.

It was a surprise turn only because so many continue to view Schuur strictly as a modern incarnation of Dinah Washington, an estimation underscored early in the performance by a version of the 1961 Washington hit I Just Found Out About Love, complete with the Basie band’s incomparable sense of swing, and a regally lush reading of Johnny Mercer’s Travelin’ Light (popularized by, among others, Billie Holiday). Both tunes also showcased Schuur’s three-and-a-half octave reach which sent the songs into the vocal stratosphere.

There were a few moments where Schuur’s otherwise assured pitch wavered and the vocal sheen that had adorned many of her recordings (particularly her ‘80s and ‘90s albums for the GRP label) sounded slightly diminished. Mostly, though, Schuur came across a vocal fireball that easily scaled the narrative demands of Iola Brubeck’s Travelin’ Blues and the swing-savvy heights within an encore version of Morgan Ames’ Deedles’ Blues.

The Basie band provided effortless and authoritative swing throughout the performance, but was able to showcase its own extensive history (the orchestra is celebrating its 80th anniversary this year) and internal musical dynamics during a fine opening set of its own.

There were several players that nicely replicated sounds and accents of key members from the orchestra’s golden era – specifically, the way Will Matthews echoed the brittle, rhythmic style of the groundbreaking swing guitarist Freddie Green and Bobby Floyd’s mastering of the light, giddy play designed by Count Basie himself. But tenor saxophonist Doug Lawrence, whose solos explored the spacious Kansas City-style swing within Hey Jim and especially Moten Swing, made the Basie Orchestra more a platform for vibrant platform for orchestral jazz music’s still-vital possibilities more than a representation or recreation of its storied past.

Comments are closed.

Terms of Service | Privacy Policy | About Our Ads | Copyright