Jazz singer Dianne Reeves’ most recent album might seem a wildly eclectic collection at first glance, a handful of originals scattered among her versions of classic songs by the likes of Marvin Gaye and Fleetwood Mac, Bob Marley and Ani DiFranco.
But to Reeves, the material on “Beautiful Life” became all of a piece in the studio as she and her collaborators tried them on and altered them to fit her style and persona.
“It’s funny,” said Reeves, who performs Tuesday and Wednesday at the Dakota Jazz Club in downtown Minneapolis, “I look at songs, and I guess they each tell a story, and the different songs talk about different things. But they’re unified by the rhythm underneath and the way that we decided to arrange and play them.
“They all have this jazz sensibility, and at the same time they are songs I enjoy singing.”
She’s right, of course, and even without the validation of a Grammy nomination this year for best jazz vocal album, just a listen or two to “Beautiful Life” makes clear how Gaye’s “I Want You” can open a record that then flows through songs such as Fleetwood Mac’s “Dreams,” Marley’s “Wait in Vain,” a standard such as “Stormy Weather” and Reeves’ own compositions.
“Beautiful Life” arrived nearly a year ago now, her first new album in five years or so, a longer gap than usual between releases for her, Reeves said, but one in which she’d kept busy with all manner of professional and personal business.
“I was doing so many different kinds of things,” she said. “I did a project called ‘Sing the Truth,’ which was a lot of fun. It started out being a celebration of the music of Nina Simone, and it was me and Lizz Wright and Angelique Kidjo. And after I did that, I did this project with Renée Fleming, for ‘American Voices.’
“And then my mother was in bad health, and she passed away during that time period. There was a lot of life happening.”
The idea for “Beautiful Life” developed out of the 58-year-old singer’s friendships with younger jazz musicians, and the desire to collaborate with them in the studio.
“A lot of the young jazz musicians, they were really inspired by the music that I came up on, and I thought, ‘Wow, this is a perfect place to meet and close the gap, the generation gap,’ ” Reeves said. “I wanted to take some of the other music I’d grown up on, the Motown music, because a lot of jazz musicians participated in that.
“With [jazz pianist] Robert Glasper, we were talking and he said, ‘I have this idea, and I just really hear you singing it.’ So he sent it to me and it was ‘Dreams.’ I laughed and said, ‘I can’t believe you even know this song, because I love Fleetwood Mac and loved that coming up. So I said, ‘Let me try this on.’ ”
In addition to Glasper, the album features contributions from jazz artists including singer Gregory Porter, trumpeter Sean Jones and bassist Esperanza Spalding.
“All of these people have their own voices, their harmonic language, their rhythmic language,” Reeves said. “I asked Esperanza to write a song for me because I love how she approaches music. It’s different; it’s out of the ordinary. We talked about what it was that I wanted to sing about, and the Christmas before last she gave me the song [‘Wild Rose’] and I was like, ‘Oh, my gosh, I love this song, I love singing it, I love feeling it.’
“It was like putting on something that was made specifically and specially for you. It was nice.”
In concert, Reeves said, she never works off a set list. “My musicians know all of my music, and so that makes for something different,” she said.
“It’s all music to me,” she said. “I grew up listening to all kinds of music. When I came up, you would hear people like Marvin Gaye talking about Sarah Vaughan. You would go to a show and see Ella Fitzgerald performing the music of the Beatles. It didn’t matter if it was Miles Davis and Ravi Shankar on the same stage.
“Those things wash over you and appeal to your spirit. Those are the things you take down.”