Dee Daniels Live at Biblo - reviews

By John Stevenson  

Loyal fans and newcomers to Dee Daniels now have the added opportunity of enjoying her unique gifts in the art and craft of jazz song through her first, and truly panoramic DVD, Dee Daniels Live At Biblo.

In a career path that has taken her from musical domiciles in the United States, various capitals in Western Europe, and presently, Vancouver, Canada, together with recording/performing stints with a virtual Who's Who of jazz celebrities, this DVD allows us to take pause and glance back in retrospect at what has, so far, been a remarkable aesthetic journey.

My first encounter with Dee's arresting vocal prowess goes back to 1999, when I had the pleasure of reviewing the critically acclaimed Love Story (3XD). I was immediately struck by the transparent sincerity and maturity of her delivered lines, Dee's very apparent gospel groundings, and the deep, deep, blues flavouring on many of the tunes on that important recording. I am also reminded of the intimacy of the quartet setting on that CD and the way the ten jazz standards she sings are so wondrously suffused with the intricacies of romance, and stamped so markedly with the imprimatur of her powerful and commanding contralto.

Needless to say, I was quite taken aback. Why hadn't I heard of this lady of jazz song before? A vocal light under the jazz bushel, one might conclude. Further investigation led me to yet another treasure: Wish Me Love (Mons), featuring Dee in the expansive, yet hard-swinging setting of one of the most formidable jazz outfits - The Dutch Metropole Orchestra. Yet another introduction to the multi-faceted nature of Dee's artistry came in the guise of her excellent 2002 CD, Feels So Good (3XD). Again, this disc foregrounds Dee's mellifluous and controlled vocals, in turn flavoured with her trademark gospel-and-blues influences.

I have up to this point, purposely omitted to mention the names of the musicians she chooses to surround herself with. Though Dee has always performed with top-drawer jazz players on her recordings, her modesty obscures the fact that she has on numerous occasions shared the stage with a variety of the world's most respected and well-loved musicians.

However, the riveting interview segment of Dee Daniels Live at Biblo, (running close to twenty minutes) with its wealth of archived photographs, reveals Dee sharing stages and recordings with towering figures such as the revered Joe Williams and the Divine One, Sarah Vaughan. Dee recalls how she was encouraged to expand her musical horizons in Europe by no less than the acclaimed visual artist LeRoy Neiman. She found Holland and Belgium to be fertile soils in which renown and respect were speedily cultivated, so much so, that she attracted the attention of the King and Queen of Belgium, and was invited to perform at their 25th Wedding Anniversary. She also speaks of some of her early albums: All of Me (1984), featuring pianist Jack Van Poll, bassist John Clayton and drummer Bruno Castelucci, and her 1986 album with a dream-come-true trio of pianist Monty Alexander, bassist John Clayton and drummer Jeff Hamilton. I might add also, that Dee is also a fine pianist and composer, and her talents in this department find wonderful expression on this DVD.

The concert aspect of this DVD (running to over an hour) is a jazz lover's delight. The proceedings took place in the December of 2004, in the suitably dusky environs of Biblo in Kalmthout, Belgium. Dee is accompanied by piano ace Jack Van Poll, star bassist, Heyn Van De Geyn and master drummer/percussionist Hans Van Oosterhout, all three musicians part of Dee’s early European musical history.

For openers, the arc lights descend on the trio, as they kick off proceedings with the theme from a bygone, but hugely popular television show, M.A.S.H., "Suicide is Painless". The accomplished ease with which Jack Van Poll and cohorts tackle this tune gives a foretelling of the high level of musical interaction in the pieces to follow. This memorable piece gives way to Dee's joyously-swinging, up-tempo original, "Come Try My Love".

Whether it's her own tunes, or the standards covered in the concert, Dee explores the rich emotional terrain of the composition, leaving the viewer in no doubt that this is a great jazz diva, the queen of all that she musically surveys.

For me, the piece de resistance of this tastefully documented Biblo set, with its rich seam of jazz gems, is the toe-tapping, and undeniably jazzy take on the George Benson hit "This Masquerade", from the crooner-guitarist's notable "Breezin" album of the mid-1970s. In attractive contrast to Benson's soul-jazz original, one is drawn to the 4/4 swing treatment that Dee gives it, as she accompanies herself with fleet, imaginative runs on the piano, and as ever injects that much-regarded blues feeling into the tune. Indeed, this singer's prowess as a pianist is yet another aspect of her talents that Dee Daniels Live at Biblo ably illuminates.

Dee's talents as powerful interpreter of the standard song, find exquisite expression on this outing.

As one who has been privileged to trace the contours of Dee's artistic development over the last few years, I have detected a wine-like richness and maturity in her voice, a quality which all singers have aspired to, but which countless many fall short of. This permeates all of the songs on this DVD, especially on timeless tunes such as "Makin’ Whoopee", "I Thought About You", "Autumn Leaves" and "Are You Lonesome Tonight".

Indeed, some of the properties of these tunes include longevity, their being memorable and instantly recognisable and last but not least, their ironic combination of simplicity and compositional rigour. All of these qualities inescapably characterise Dee Daniels' compelling artistry.

In the end, the truth of the pudding, as they say, is in the eating. I warmly enjoin you to pop this remarkable DVD into your machine, and enjoy jazz singing (and jazz swinging!) in the way it should be enjoyed, in the distinguished company of one of its best exponents, chanteuse extraordinaire, Dee Daniels.

(John Stevenson is a United Kingdom-based writer and broadcaster. His work appears in a variety of publications including The Guardian (UK), Jazzwise (UK), West Africa magazine (UK), Jazz Report (Canada), as well as ejazznews.com, allaboutjazz.com and jazzreview.com.

 

 

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