I wrote four Diana Krall reviews for Enjoy the Music.com:
· 2002, Stepping Out - The Early Recordings
· 2005, The Girl In The Other Room
· 2008, Christmas Songs
· 2009, From This Moment On
Plus, a decade ago in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, I saw the reigning Queen of smooth jazz recordings perform an utterly compelling acoustic performance, in such an idyllic audiophile venue, that the audience filed out in somatic bliss, glassy-eyed and mouths agape! Every tweaking audiophile should take the iPod out of their ears and listen to the uncompressed, natural harmonics of live, unamplified, acoustic music, preferably in a hall specially designed to revere each note like a precious gem.
Yet in February of this year, this time in Tampa Bay, the tall, blond Canadian – now famously married and mother of twins with folk rocker Elvis Costello – gave quite a different performance for Quiet Nights, her chart-topping ninth studio album. Quiet Nights debuted at number one on Billboard Jazz Albums list. Winner of three Grammy Awards, Krall is the only jazz singer to have eight albums debuting at the top of Billboard Jazz Albums! It is now available in 96kHz/24-bit resolution at HDtracks. (The ultimate in audio quality, high resolution requires three times as much storage space and might not be clearly better on iPods or laptops.)
As she did with most of her albums, Krall reprises a few popular tunes from the days of vinyl discs. These include Johnny Mercer (50s), Cole Porter (60s), Burt Bacharach (70s), even the Gibb brothers (Bee Gees). Krall sings three Brazilian classics (“The Boy from Ipanema”) and turns four pop standards into bossa nova tunes. In an TBNweekly.com interview, she said the album is a “sensual, downright erotic... love letter to my husband.”
For this album, Krall invoked an infamous line from The Blues Brother movie, “we are getting the band back together,” but without the same effect. The old gang is all here, but the result is oddly different. Hamilton is here on drums, Clayton back on bass, even Tony LiPuma returns as producer. So too are the pop tunes of your parents, reprised in modern Technicolor. Yet this effort is not in the same league as “When I Look in Your Eyes,” which won a Grammy in 1999 for Best-Engineered Non-Classical Recording.
True, the tall Canadian is her exemplary, breathy and showy self. Yet for the first time in a decade of adoration, the thought suddenly occurred to me that not everybody will appreciate her seemingly effortless and over-the-top performance! I blame the addition of the orchestra for my unexpected weakness of devotion. I floated to the stars recently with the Florida Orchestra’s decidedly German (meaning reserved, to warmly tepid) rendition of Tchaikovsky’s splashy Second Symphony (Little Russian). Yet, it is the violins filling in the quiet spaces behind Krall’s exact articulation, behind her precise plinkings, that reduces this delicate and elegant album to a merely satisfying collection of Vegas show tunes. The orchestra stuffs music into the background, like too much milk or sugar in coffee or tea. The effect is the same as if a highly-charged glimpse of a supple breast in an action-thriller is replaced with the blatantly obvious toplessness of every spangled and feathered showgirl in the chorus line. The rarity is diminished; the commonality is exposed.
The orchestra did not accompany Krall on tour. Like the previous concert, and many of her albums, on stage Krall sang and played piano with a guitar, drums and upright bass trio. Unfortunately, this concert was amplified through the hard edge of solid-state gear. The delicious intimacy of her albums was replaced with the steel practicality of a PA system. Despite shouts from a restless audience, Krall did not perform her award winning “Peel Me a Grape.”
She did however, insert Bob Dylan’s famous "A Simple Twist of Fate” (“We sat together in the dark, before the evening sky grew dark...") into the middle of Joni Mitchell’s classic “A Case of You:”
Oh, you're in my
blood like holy wine
Old fans grow crusty in their devotion. Once we latch onto an artist, we resist their changes like increased gasoline prices. It may be necessary, but we don’t like the change. Even as each new Beatles’ album explored wider boundaries, for example, the initial reaction was skepticism! Yet the Beatles’ albums still enjoyed momentous commercial success. And Krall could certainly do more of these 70s romantic compilations!
Lovers of this Krall gang (and I steadfastly remain one), will still add “Quiet Nights” to her always solid rebirths of bygone jazz despite the background music dumbing-down the sophisticated elegance of her raw vocal and piano talents for the Bacharach crowd. Those fans of Bacharach and the Bee Gees – who find their work thrilling, not insipid – may be glad to hear their tunes heisted by Krall’s accomplished gang. In fact, maybe it was those same chatty, texting and picture-taking fans that required Krall and her band to use the PA when I saw them perform in February. After the performance, many attendees complained to the ushers on the disrespectful and distracting annoyances. Just like the album, the precious rarity of a flawless, enticing, acoustic performance was drowned in mediocrity.
We protect ugliness so that beauty can flourish. Often though, it is not beauty that prevails. So, “Atlas Shrugged” and I shrugged. After Krall’s “Girl in the Other Room,” I thought she should alternate between her own work and classic jazz tunes. Now I say that on her next “sure to be gold” album, Krall should leave the violins to the symphonies, the Vegas show tunes to the chorus girls.