Krall Creates Intimate Vibe
A great artist can shrink a venue. During Diana Krall’s July 17 performance at Ravinia, the pianist/singer accomplished something that Tony Bennett has done multiple times at this Highland Park, Ill., venue: She transformed the bustling atmosphere of the large, covered, outdoor pavilion into that of a cozy jazz club. (Her mesmerizing spell was less effective out on the lawn, where patrons picnicked amidst frolicking children and buzzing cicadas.)
Krall, 47, accomplished the feat through a combination of superior musicianship and confessional song introductions that prompted the audience to pay heed to the nuances. Concert organizers enhanced the show’s intimacy by flanking the stage with two video screens that projected multi-angle images of the musicians, including close-ups of Krall’s precise, jaunty right-hand work on a Steinway piano.
Krall devoted the bulk of her 100-minute performance to gems from the Great American Songbook, including “Don’t Fence Me In,” “Cheek To Cheek,” “I Was Doing Alright” and “I Just Found Out About Love.”
All three of her accompanists gave stellar performances. Guitarist Anthony Wilson provided a plethora of quicksilver runs on the fretboard, but without any grandiose showboating. Drummer Karriem Riggins was a bundle of controlled energy that exploded into potent solos and shifted back into the pocket just as swiftly. Bassist Robert Hurst gracefully anchored the proceedings, and his extended arco work made “’Deed I Do” an early highlight. Krall recorded that Walter Hirsch/Fred Rose composition on her 1996 Impulse album, All For You, and on her 2002 Verve concert disc, Live In Paris.
As a singer, Krall eschews skyscraper-climbing acrobatics. Instead, the native Canadian wins over an audience with her sophisticated timbre and a selection of material that’s perfectly suited to her persona and vocal range. At Ravinia, she pulled off the nifty trick of sounding steadily invested in each number yet consistently comfortable.
Krall’s stage banter was peppered with revelatory comments about the yearning she feels for her husband (rocker Elvis Costello) and kids when she’s separated from them during a tour; nostalgic reflections about her youth on Vancouver Island; her father’s love of 78-rpm discs; and her late mother’s values and personality. There were also a few keenly placed, self-deprecating jokes, as well as parental humor. Krall recounted that as a mother to 5-year-old twins, she must deal with vexing questions such as, “Mommy, who is ‘The Fool On The Hill’?” Her reply to that question was a classic, sidestepping retort: “Go ask your father.”
Krall introduced “Exactly Like You” by explaining that she learned it as a youngster who studied the Nat “King” Cole repertoire. Her version at Ravinia included a crowd-pleasing piano quotation from “Chicago (That Toddlin’ Town),” as well as a clever, fluid guitar solo from Wilson. Riggins masterfully played the trapset with his hands during this number.
A medley that merged Irving Berlin’s “How Deep Is The Ocean?” with Tom Waits’ 1985 song “Jockey Full Of Bourbon” illustrated that Krall’s artistic orientation doesn’t dwell exclusively on the pre-rock era. This point was accentuated by her pounding, slightly strutting chords on The Beatles’ “Come Together,” performed as part of the rousing encore.
The year 2012 is shaping up to be a key one in Krall’s career. In February, Paul McCartney released the standards-oriented Kisses On The Bottom (Hear Music/Concord)—an album on which Krall played piano and wrote the rhythm arrangements for 13 of the 14 tracks. At Ravinia, she offered a strong, swinging rendition of one of those tunes, “I’m Gonna Sit Right Down And Write Myself A Letter.” Although Krall didn’t mention it onstage, she has put the finishing touches a studio album, Glad Rag Doll, which Verve will release on Oct. 2.
By performing across the country in major venues, Krall—one of the most high-profile performers in all of jazz—is introducing tunes from the Great American Songbook to fans from younger generations. Kudos to her for doing so.
The tour itinerary on Krall’s website lists upcoming shows in Denver (Aug. 6), Las Vegas (Aug. 13) and Portland, Ore. (Aug. 31).