Dianne Reeves started the night off right with an hour-long set in front of her regular group, featuring Peter Martin on piano, bassist Reuben Rogers and drummer Gregory Hutchinson. Ms. Reeves played in place of Shirley Horn, who was unable to perform due to her recent illness. Filling in for a living legend seems an unenviable spot to be in, but Dianne Reeves is an astonishing talent in her own right and she managed a strong and admirable set. Acknowledging the impossibility of 'replacing' Horn, Ms. Reeves mainly did her own thing on stage but included a nice rendition of "Loads of Love" as an homage to the ailing Ms. Horn.
The middle portion of Reeves' set featured a series of standards which she performed in an upcoming movie directed by George Clooney. She punctuated these with her own humorous and slightly racy commentary about the physical appeal of Mr. Clooney. Of these, "One For My Baby" was the somewhat surprising standout, its narrative seeming more obviously suited for a male voice. Yet, this did not prevent Dianne Reeves from delivering it with complete conviction and succeeding in making the lyric her own. "You're Driving Me Crazy" fared less well, with Reeves' prodigious vocal technique rather overwhelming the fairly simple tune. The most affecting moment of the evening came when Reeves sang the ballad "Do You Know What It Means To Miss New Orleans," the singer and New Orleans native Martin connecting with the city's ongoing tragedy.
George Duke came out after a short intermission and introduced his band members one by one. First Billy Cobham, who sat behind the drum kit and laid down a beat. Then Duke called out the name of Christian McBride, who came out and put a bass line to Cobham's rhythm. Duke began to play the piano intently a la McCoy Tyner. Next, he introduced Bobby Hutcherson, who soloed in counterpoint to Duke. Airto Moriera followed, adding a complicated rhythm on the pandero (a Brazilian instrument akin to a tambourine). The group was then completed by saxophonist Kenny Garrett and the trumpeter Roy Hargrove, whose lines completed the Coltrane-esque effect of the piece. They continued in this mode for the next few pieces, Duke happy to work on his modal playing and Garrett obviously still in pursuance of the Trane sound.
There were several different configurations yet to come in the evening, however. At one point the group with the exception of Duke and Airto left the stage, while Joe Sample came out and played a second piano on a fascinating version of Ellington's "Caravan." At another, Cobham and Airto shared a percussion duet that was perfectly timed, just long enough for them to develop some exciting polyrhythms and build to an exciting climax and just short enough to leave you still wanting more. The tribute to Hubbard found Reeves joining in to sing on "Sunflower" and featured Duke switching to Fender Rhodes for "Red Clay," with Garrett and the others making appropriate stylistic shifts in their playing.
Reeves sang another song with the Duke group. Making the surprising announcement that she was stepping down as the LA Philharmonic's Creative Chair for Jazz, she dedicated "I Wish You Love" to her successor who, as it happened, was playing bass on it with her: Christian McBride. This was an interesting cap to the evening and the Bowl series. The Philharmonic's 05-06 jazz season at Disney Hall will go on as planned under Reeves, but next year's offerings at the Bowl will be under the direction of McBride. It's sad to see Dianne Reeves step down, but if this evening's performance was any indication of what McBride will do at the Bowl, I'm sure everything will work out.