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If it weren’t so true it would sound like a cliché: there really is no other ensemble quite like DIVA. A 15-piece all-women big band in the classic tradition—yet wholly un-retro in their approach—DIVA is all about dynamics and innovation, class and sass. Now, on their new CD, A Swingin’ Life, due August 5th from MCG Jazz, DIVA presents 11 audaciously performed sides culled from the Great American Songbook and beyond. And joining DIVA for the occasion—recorded by New York’s Jazz at Lincoln Center live at Dizzy’s Club Coca-Cola and at Pittsburgh’s renowned Manchester Craftsmen’s Guild—are two of our greatest divas, the inimitable Nancy Wilson and Marlena Shaw.
Led by drummer Sherrie Maricle, DIVA has released more than a dozen previous albums, drawing raves from such prestigious outlets as the Washington Post, which said the band played with “vigor and complexity,” and JazzTimes magazine, which wrote that “the band punched, kicked, roared and swung with a disciplined abandon and an unaffected joie de vivre.”
DIVA just recently participated in the 2014 Macy’s 4th of July Fireworks spectacular, arranging and recording the musical score for the event, viewed by millions. The group has been featured in the multi-award winning film The Girls in the Band and has recently been touring with Maurice Hines’ show Tappin’ Through Life. DIVA has received raves in Washington, D.C. (Nov.-Dec. 2013), Atlanta (March-April 2014), Los Angeles (May 2014) and Cleveland (June 2014). Going back to 2009, Maricle was the recipient of the Mary Lou Williams Lifetime Achievement Award at D.C.’s Kennedy Center.
But for all of the kudos they’ve piled up already, A Swingin’ Life vaults DIVA up another notch. From the high-stepping, punchy take on Bacharach-David’s “What the World Needs Now Is Love,” which opens the exhilarating set, through standards such as “The Very Thought of You,” “Pennies from Heaven” and “All My Tomorrows,” and onward to the Terry Gibbs-penned closer “Blues for Hamp,” DIVA’s kinetic energy never lets up.
Of course, the highlights of A Swingin’ Life include the legendary Nancy Wilson’s spirited vocal performance on the classic “All of Me,” arranged by John Clayton, and Marlena Shaw’s three back-to-back appearances—including a Count Basie blues medley. But as special as those are, every track is truly a gem. The level of prowess exhibited throughout A Swingin’ Life is off the charts, each member shining both individually and within the context of the orchestra. As producer Marty Ashby writes in the liner notes, DIVA “stands for all that is right about jazz.”