What is it about Diana Krall? Why are her remakes of classic songs so beguiling? This is not her first holiday season CD. Her seventh release, in 1999, was Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas. Yet each holiday, Krall's face, legs and music fill the store shelves and airwaves. This year again, radio stations have her crooning long-standing holiday hits.
"I'm dreaming," Krall drawls, letting each word drip slowly like honey. "of a white Christmas." She remakes classic Bing Crosby and Irving Berlin tunes in such a smooth, stylish and professional manner she captures the heart-jerking rendition of the music, pulling wet-eye sentimentality from such classics as Judy Garland's immortal "Merry Little Christmas."
"Happy golden days of yore," she purrs as silky as satin. "Faithful friends who are dear to us," Krall sings, with just the right emotion, phrasing, pace and lingering breath on a dozen songs. "Gather near to us once more."
A tall, blonde-haired woman, in her 40s, Krall is a stately jazz singer and pianist, from British Columbia in Western Canada, who began playing piano at the age of four. At age 15, she began performing old-time piano classics, learned from her father's collection and family sing-alongs, for weekend crowds at a local restaurant. Many of her remakes were languishing in the dust of old record stores and deserve the sunlight of discovery. Krall is not the first artist to resuscitate old treasures. Where Hollywood can't seem to retouch a classic without trampling all over its original charm, she brings such polish to dirty gems that they sparkle once again.
Krall's career exploded when I Look in Your Eyes won a Grammy for best jazz vocal and became the first jazz disc to be nominated for Album of the Year in twenty-five years. In 2002, her The Look of Love was a #1 bestseller in the US and a seven-time platinum album in her native Canada! Four years ago, Krall married hip musician/songwriter Elvis Costello, ten years her senior. They teamed up on The Girl In the Other Room with his and her songs, and then a year later created two twin boys, Dexter and Frank. The remake of her first album though, Stepping Out, remains in heavy rotation in my critical reference stack.
Krall is the luminous standard-bearer of the torchy nightclub ingénue made famous by the foggy Billie Holiday, but with a breath of fresh pine-filled mountain air. In the smoky gray of Diana Ross' movie about Holiday, as in real life, Holiday keened sad love songs in such a mournful, struggling way she epitomizes the melodic crooning of soulful female torches forever. Then and now, Holiday/Ross was the 'Lady Sings the Blues.'
Now Krall, looking more like actress Kim Bassinger than haggard Holiday, sits proudly center stage in the panorama of great jazz vocalists. On all of her songs, she interposes four of my favorite jazz instruments - the assured female vocalist, piano, percussion and acoustic bass - with gentle guitar riffs. (Sadly, Krall arrangements usually ignore the raspy devil's backbone of jazz, the saxophone.) Yet, the dramatic spaces between Krall's precise phrasing and tantalizing timing make her music as smooth as dark chocolate nibbled with a small snifter of gold cognac. The eloquence of her wonderfully sophisticated, melodic architecture and rhythmic parlance expresses all the smarmy sentimentality not just of the holiday season, but of torchy love songs too.
Together with producer Tommy LiPuma, drummer Jeff Hamilton and bassist John Clayton, this 2005 album still is a jazz CD, but Krall imbibes the classics with her dynamic nuances to render them anew with a modern vernacular. Plus, all of her releases include several glamour style photos of her blonde hair and long legs.
Diana's roots and influences are Nat King Cole, Fats Waller and Peggy Lee. The only serious criticism leveled against her is that she, like the original artists did also, makes artistically dramatic, cleaned-up, white versions of black music. It is true that Krall etches such an elegant, refined jazz rendition; she epitomizes classic jazz standards; although she is not 'Lady Sings the Blues.'
Krall is not darkly moody like the sad Holiday. While stronger than k.d. lang, she does not show off the impressive extension of Sarah McLachlin or Whitney Houston. Krall does not have the higher range of Linda Ronstadt. If you like artists such as Holiday, lang and Ronstadt, I think you will like Krall. Her work is stronger, more polished, more engaging than the wonderful Patricia Barber or Holly Cole. If you appreciate the work of Barber and Cole, you will relish Krall.
Even with a decade of discs, I cannot get enough of her music. I cannot get enough of the soft brushing of the cymbals, the strident, deep vibrations of the forcefully plucked bass notes, or the fast snaps of the snare. With a great voice, small band and simple tunes, I think all her work is par excellence. 'She is,' as Robert Palmer sang, 'my addiction.'
The highest compliment that any one can give anybody is that no one is better than they are. When it comes to diving deep and coming up with audiophile pearls of ethereal pleasure, no one is better than lovely Diana is. Five Blue Notes for her performance: I can not imagine somebody doing what she does significantly better than she does. Krall fans should gobble up this CD like Christmas cookies. Enjoy her music and have yourself a Merry little New Year, "from now on, all our troubles will be gay!"