The Critics: Diana's gain without pain

JAZZ
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Indy Lifestyle Online
FOR JAZZ masochists who like a bit of pain with their music, the success of Diana Krall has been a bitter pill to take. The singer and pianist from British Columbia is the hottest thing in jazz right now, and while at 33 she's hardly a new kid on the block, there's a sneaking suspicion that there hasn't been the requisite amount of essential angst and heartbreak on her path to fame. She's good-looking, she seems perfectly well-adjusted, and in her debut week (sold-out, with queues around the block) at Ronnie Scott's in Soho she showed herself to be a brilliant musician, a great entertainer, and a singer so good that she coud just stand at the mike and you would still love her. Damn.

If she's been sold very hard on the questionable promise of being a female Harry Connick Jr - and that maybe isn't such a bad thing to be as long as you don't, like Harry, harbour a secret ambition to rock out on the guitar - Krall can't be blamed for her publicity (though maybe reserving an act of veto over the use of soft-focus photography and come-hither smile on her next album sleeve wouldn't go amiss). But the hard sell conceals an incredibly soft centre: a dream of sophisticated supper-club jazz that covers all the normal bases of the genre but actually sounds like real music too.

Opening on "All or Nothing at All", Krall proved she could play within the first 10 bars, in a quick series of flash-and-filigree passes across the keyboard. When she began to sing in that breathy, warmly intoned microphone voice full of delicious tremolo, it seemed as if a big soppy cloud had descended from the ceiling and engulfed us all. She then passed the tune over to the guitarist Russell Malone - a figure so still he looked like a cigar-store Indian holding a fat-bellied semi-acoustic. He proceeded to take the the tune to bits like a mechanic disassembling an engine before putting the whole thing together again and tossing the reconditioned song back to Krall, all without any perceptible change in his expression, and all in the space of three minutes. Then big, dolorous Ben Wolf played a big, dolorous bass solo.

Once the pattern had been established, it was repeated for each song. Although all the songs came in Tin Pan Alley standard form, they avoided the obvious ready-to-wear choices in favour of a kind of thrift-store aesthetic of pre-worn but funky numbers. Thus we got not only Warren and Dubin's "You're Getting to Be a Habit with Me", but "Boulevard of Broken Dreams" (dedicated to James Dean, because she used to have the poster on her wall), and a feisty reading of Dave Frishberg's "Peel Me a Grape". Throughout, Krall talked wittily, played beautifully, and sang as feelingly as Judy Garland addressing Clark Gable's picture. By the end of the set the cuteness was beginning to wear off a little and you wished she'd, well, rock out with some piano instrumentals. But Diana Krall is everything she's cracked up to be and more. Just a little pain and she's got it made.

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