Last spring, I rushed out to buy the latest studio album from the reigning ingénue Queen of torchy jazz last spring, and then sat petulantly, like a spoiled child on the review. I have matured in my perspective, much as Diana Krall has matured in hers. For a decade now, the young blonde, as healthy as a Scandinavian skier, keened love songs in such a mournful, struggling way that she came to epitomize the melodic crooning of soulful female torches like Billie Holiday and her Diana Ross impersonation. Krall normally belts out classic jazz standards as smoothly as Scotch follows cigars. Yet her 2004 release, The Girl In The Other Room, charts new ground with her avant-garde songwriting husband, Elvis Costello.
No, there is none of his wonderful bopping rock hits on this album either. Those instant classics are still missing, from both of their works. So don't expect "Watching the Detectives" or "The Angels Want to Wear My Red Shoes" by either spouse. Darn.
Krall's first compilation with her husband is still not her best album. The 24-bit/96kHz remix of her first incredible album, Stepping Out, is still the best - though her live and studio releases since then come awfully close.
Costello's lyrics are on three-quarters of the album, while Krall dominates throughout with her incredible voice and dramatically crisp/clear jazz piano accompaniment. Here though, she departs from her standard repertoire for the first time. Not boldly on his songs, but safely. On Costello's work, which is supposed to be more personal and important to Krall, her vocal and piano arrangements strangely don't seem as assured. His songs are more reflective perhaps, but also more sedate. His lyrics aren't as compelling as the revisited ones on the album, including "Temptations" by Tom Waits, which is now a smooth jazz station standard and a Krall single. With other people's work, like Joni Mitchell's "Black Crows," Krall seems to know exactly where she wants to go and she "boldly goes where no man has gone before."
On the other songs, Krall etches elegant, refined jazz renditions from Tom Waits, Bonnie Raitt and Joni Mitchell. She interprets Waits' "Temptation" as a sultry jazz tune rather than a jazzy pop song. On all of the songs, she interposes four of my favorite jazz instruments - the assured female vocalist, piano, percussion and acoustic bass - with gentle guitar riffs. This CD still is a jazz CD, but Krall explores nuances of her singing that are fresh and interesting.
Costello's material is dark and full of shadows, underscored by the loss of Krall's mother. Krall evokes a hip vernacular of early beat jazz. The songs are neither sentimental, nor sophomoric. The eloquence of Krall's wonderfully sophisticated melodic architecture and rhythmic parlance expresses longing, death and … acceptance. Costello's work shows that Krall is "The Girl In The Other Room." An incomparable jazz artist with a sad personal and folksy/pop sides.
The album is not a bold new direction by a talented artist, but a safe departure, extending her solid torchy jazz tradition. Hopefully, she will alternate these explorations with her husband with more of her instant jazz classics.
Krall is the reigning Queen and sings like a goddess. Krall fans will do doubt eat this CD like caviar -- an acquired taste. Lovers of strong but not flighty female vocalists, like Patricia Barber and Cassandra Wilson, will love her assured voice.
The album is the first co-produced by Krall and her long-time producer Tommy LiPuma. It is gold in France, England and Portugal; double platinum in Canada.