No alarms and no surprises here
Diana Krall, Royal Albert Hall, London
Wednesday 31 October 2012
"The JK Rowling of jazz" was how the deliriously successful chanteuse was once memorably described, and occasionally the demure Diana Krall's brand of dinner jazz is almost offensively inoffensive, music to grace shopping mall lifts and smooth radio stations.
Her breathy, occasionally husky, contralto is controlled and accomplished,
but it never feels sassy or passionate. Which is a problem as tonight the
47-year-old is showcasing some sassy and passionate romantic ballads, mainly
from the 1920s and 1930s, in a performance that recalls the time of
speakeasies, Ziegfeld follies and flapper dresses. Most of the tracks are from Glad
Rag Doll, a new T-Bone Burnett-produced album where Mrs Elvis Costello
appears on the cover leaning back in a basque, stockings and suspenders. She's
doesn't replicate this look on stage.
Her generous show begins on a back projection with Steve Buscemi - who excels as gangster Nucky Thompson in Boardwalk Empire - murdering "When the Curtain Comes Down". Krall's arrival can't come quickly enough, frankly, and she starts solidly with "We Just Couldn't Say Goodbye", followed by Bix Beiderbecke's tangy "There Ain't No Man Who's Worth the Salt of My Tears".
Krall's taste in material has always
been immaculate, as evidenced further tonight by her covers (she only really
does covers) of Bob Dylan's "A Simple of Twist", which she nimbly
twists into a sort of Randy Newman-esque lament, and Tom Wait's lascivious
The Canadian is clearly a virtuoso jazz pianist, and the highlight here is four solo tracks played on an 1890 Steinway upright piano. She performs them with her back to the audience ("Just making sure my skirt's still there," she jokes as she readjusts herself at one point) and is endearing company, informing us she's a "coal miner's grand-daughter" used to performing for her family and confessing her love of Fats Waller.
too often her renditions have a monotone feel, they're suffocating even; she
never appears to totally let rip. She's moderately raucous on "Lonely
Avenue" and boisterous-ish on Nat King Cole's "Boulevard of Broken
Dreams", but she fails to replicate Marilyn Monroe's effortless perkiness
on "Running Wild" (from Some Like It Hot) and cannot match
Betty James's robust raunchiness on "I'm a Little Mixed Up". There
are no alarms and no surprises here.
The concert feels part recital, part lullabies, part experimentation, and to distract us and jazz it all (sorry) up we're bombarded with images of silent films, the puppet series Stingray (because "I have kids... and I'm a kid too") and The Clangers. The baffling distractions don't really work; she works better unembellished, when she keeps it
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