The Jazz.com Blog
June 27, 2009 · 0 comments
Will Friedwald brings to his music criticism a deep knowledge of the American jazz and popular vocal tradition. His books include Jazz Singing, Sinatra: The Song is You, and Stardust Melodies. Friedwald was in attendance at Diana Krall’s Carnegie Hall concert last Wednesday, and shares his perspective below. T.G.
Fifteen years ago, at the time of her American debut, I initially thought of Diana Krall not only as cold but the icy figurehead of an entire movement of emotionally detached and even frigid divas who seemed to be all the rage in the mid-‘90s. Then, towards the end of that decade, around the time that she made her “breakthrough” album When I Look In Your Eyes with Johnny Mandel (and it’s follow up, The Look of Love, with Claus Ogerman), Ms. Krall seemed to be growing noticeably warmer. With two recent albums, From This Moment On (2006) and the especially excellent Christmas Songs of 2005 (probably my favorite holiday album of the last decade), the temperature was steadily rising. Then, just this week (Wednesday June 25), at the second of two nights at Carnegie Hall, Ms. Krall became red hot.
She opened with a breakneck reading of Peggy Lee’s “Love Being Here With You,” delivered so fast it might give you whiplash. She sped through the lyrics like she assumed everyone in the room already knew them, and, therefore, she didn’t have to take the time to enunciate all the words carefully. It was fast, lively, and swinging; at the piano, especially, there are a lot of virtuoso keyboardists (or even pianist-singers) who can play with a lot more harmonic depth and sophistication (admittedly the case for her instrumental skills was not helping by the acoustics at Carnegie; it was impossible to tell if the piano was made by Steinway or Fisher-Price), but Krall plays in such a way as to remind us that the piano primarily belongs in the jazz rhythm section. On fast numbers in particular, her timing is everything. (The rest of her quartet, guitarist Anthony Wilson, bassist Robert Hurst, and drummer Jeff Hamilton, are a major plus).
On the ballads, Krall is more romantic than ever. The second tune at Carnegie, “Do It Again,” introduced the 41-piece classical orchestra, playing the string arrangements of conductor Alan Broadbent (wearing a white tuxedo jacket that made him look like an elegant Good Humor Man) and Claus Ogerman, who arranged her current album, Quiet Nights. Somehow by getting less hot—and less conspicuously “jazzy”—she waxes warmer in an emotional sense. She pays more attentive to the lyric and shows more concerns with the underlying emotion beneath a song, and grows more capable of making listeners sizzle.
Much of her new release, Quiet Nights, seems like a two-headed attempt both to create a sequel to The Look of Love and, at the same time, to remake Mr. Ogerman’s collaboration with Frank Sinatra and Antonio Carlos Jobim on the classic Sinatra-Jobim album. The big bossa hits on Quiet Nights, especially the title track, “Boy From Ipanema,” and “So Nice,” are just so monumentally overdone that I can’t bear to listen to them anymore, even from a singer I like. (I prefer her duet with Rosemary Clooney on “Ipanema” from the musical matriarch’s Brazil album.) Yet the title aside, most of the album, thankfully, is non-Brazilian. Contrarily, her renditions of a pair of ‘60s pop hits, “Walk on By” and “How Can You Mend a Broken Heart,” are so fresh and lively that I almost forget I’ve ever heard them. (In terms of worthy 2009 releases, she also has a wonderful duet on “If I Had You” with Willie Nelson on the country icon’s new standards album, American Classic.)
Comparing Quiet Nights to her relatively loud night at Carnegie brings out a couple of important points: when she played Radio City in 2002 and 2004, I remember thinking that as good as she was in front of a live audience, she came across exactly in person like she was on record—the concert seemed like a stage version of what she was doing on her albums, rather than the other way around. (That’s possibly why her live albums usually turn out so well.) Yet this week, for the first time, I was conscious of Ms. Krall doing all sorts of stuff that wouldn’t find its way onto an album, even a live one. Her treatment of “I’ve Grown Accustomed To His Face” is lovely on the record, but in person, she works in an ingenious intro that quotes liberally from “Wouldn’t It Be Loverly” (another My Fair Lady number). Here’s a sign that she’s beginning to take her place in with the ranks of more experienced singer-instrumentalist-bon-vivants like Michael Feinstein, John Pizzarelli, and Anne Hampton—doing shtick both musical and verbal that’s only meant for the in-person audience.
I also vaguely remember that seven years ago, Ms. Krall barely spoke a word, the whole Radio City show also resembled a CD in that it was essentially one song after another without any spoken interruption. This week, she chatted at length at several points, in such a way as to deliberately convey that she’s not a practiced public speaker. She uses a lot of local British Columbia references most Americans (let alone New Yorkers) won’t understand. She talks about her family, she drops the names of Barack Obama and Barbra Streisand (prominent democrats both), and then chides herself for doing so. Not everything she says is completely coherent, but it all serves its apparently intended purpose of showing us that she’s completely comfortable talking casually in front of a crowd, and is no longer trying to hide behind a piano.
“Exactly Like You” is one of the highlights of From This Moment On: admittedly borrowed from Nat King Cole, it’s one of the few King Cole Trio arrangements that features a drummer (by 1949, the pianist had added latin percussionist Jack Costanzo to his threesome), and so it’s a perfect choice for Krall’s quartet. “Exactly Like You” swings agreeably on the album, but in person it expands and breathes much more, the same way as it undoubtedly did when Cole performed it in clubs; the song simply becomes more alive. The only spoken comment I distinctly remember from 2002 was in praise of Cole; at Carnegie, she spoke of listening to him “every single day. She proved it with a stunning reading of “Pick Yourself Up,” in which she played both the roles of Nat Cole and George Shearing by herself.
The set varied adroitly between the quartet, the full orchestra, and even two unaccompanied piano solos—both of which, “Louisiana” and “Singin’ The Blues” were obviously aimed at the Bix Beiderbecke fans in the house (the latter directly quoted the famous cornet solo). She wound up by reprising Peggy Lee on “I Don’t Know Enough About You,” building to a rousing piano solo that called to mind the late Herman Foster. “Every Time We Say Goodbye” (Ogerman’s chart seems inspired by Ray Charles & Betty Carter) then served as a bonus track for the concert, much as it does for the Quiet Nights album.
I remember in 2002, the show seemed to drag a little bit towards the end. Here, she practically did a full two hours, without intermission, or any sign of a letup. At 44, Ms. Krall is steadily growing as a musician, an entertainer, and a presence.
This blog entry posted by Will Friedwald