Diana Krall was a good pianist at the age
of five. Her mother and father both played piano, and the instrument consumed her creative mind. She played jazz in the school
band, and, at 15, she performed three nights a week at a restaurant in her home town of Nanaimo, in British Columbia, Canada.
She won a Vancouver Jazz Festival scholarship
to the Berklee college of Music in Boston, moved to Los Angeles (thanks to a grant by the Canadian Arts Council), to study
with Jimmy Rowles, played gigs there and in Boston– and was active on the jazz festival circuit.
It’s no wonder she had it together
with her polished voice and trio sound in her first album, "Stepping Out," in 1981. She’s been a working musician for
25 years and it shows. This spring she’s touring South America, playing her new compositions and singing Elvis Costello
lyrics. Ah, there’s
The two musicians, who married in December,
2003, have found a synergy that nourishes their individual talents, and it’s a deep mix. But it’s tricky
for Krall to ‘move on’ while her loyal audience expects a concert of King Cole-like bounce (her strongest early
influence). By attempting to synchronize her talents with Costello, she negotiates a rocky road and risks alienating her fan
Krall still swings. Her knock-out performance
at the Montreal Jazz Concert last June (recorded on an excellent Verve DVD) clearly showed the Krall-Costello blend, when
she sounded transported singing his lyrics to her music.
But Costello lyrics are complex and cranky–
a long way from "On the Sunny Side of the Street" and "Route 66." He’s more poet than musician.
Here’s a sample verse from "Tokyo
Storm Warning" on his "Blood and Chocolate" album:
"The black sand stuck beneath her
feet in a warm Sorrento sunrise. A barefoot
girl from Naples or was it a Barcelona hi-rise whistles
out the tuneless theme song on a hundred cheap suggestions, and a million false seductions and all those eternal questions."
Just try to sing stuff like that while you’re
heating up the piano and leading a trio of headliners. Clearly the woman likes a challenge.
Back to the Montreal concert... Diana Krall
commands the stage with a huge presence even though she's a size two petite and has child-like hands. She sets the groove
mightily and plans her program with smooth and clever nuances.
She’s ever-more venturesome and improvisational–
searching out new voicings, reworking melody lines, plucking piano strings- and singing like a great sax. Her strong concentration
(she never tosses away a lyric) elicits a high level of listening from her audience.
Krall’s cool sensibility at the piano
is precise, proud-ful, thoughtful, and edgy. As Oscar Peterson said, "I admire Diana because her approach has a dignity and
truth to it."
She leaves her heart in a safer place than
her sleeve, being both straight-forward and contrary– plaintive, yet loaded with moxie. She’s smart enough to
relieve the pressure and share the spotlight with extraordinary guitar, bass, and drum soloists.
She’s a good editor who knows how
to mix it up. She segues from a percussive Al Jarreau piece, seamlessly, into a bouncy "Devil May Care," to a good Mose Allison
romp, followed by Costello’s "The Girl in the Other Room," (an intricate jungle of lyrics) played with rock-like
punch and riffs. Then she moves into tunes by Joni Mitchell and Tom Waits– then Costello’s "Narrow Daylight,"
and wraps it up with a mean and feverish blues that leaves the audience swaying and begging for more.
She let’s you know that she is, very
happily, moving on to new territory.