Diana Krall At Beacon Theatre, Wednesday, June 21st, 2017, Reviewed
The everywoman approach seems to work for jazz music’s most popular woman vocalist, a distractive ditziness that lets you in through minute details to show that her concentrating isn’t the intense coolness you are seeing, the woman behind the woman is you and me. A little shy, disjointed, incapable of completing a thought, at odds with her visage, and at odds with her sound, Diana Krall let’s you into the inner circle of her supremeness, because, after all, she is one of us. Except it is an act. I don’t know who Krall is but after seeing her live numerous times, I think she is much more the consummate jazz trio band leader with the never let them see you sweat Nat King Cole. It is the blondes as adjective in Krall.
At the Beacon Theatre, in support of her fine new album Turn Up The Quiet (a conceptual continuation of 2009’s Quiet Nights) Krall was every inch a blonde’s blonde, a Hitchcock Blonde: an Eva Saint Marie or Jean Seberg, with that anxiety of life bubbling beneath her unruffled so so cool. On a trip mostly down the rabbit hole of the Great American Songbook, Diana used her skills with a precise evocation of her art form, even when it took her to Tom Waits, Joni Mitchell, her husband Elvis Costello, and Robbie Robertson. So let’s talk about that coolness and it all starts with the voice, neither strong, nor tender, it is an iceberg of muted desire that flattens out her syllables and touches the corners of the melody while using the true expressiveness for her piano and for her band. It’s something impenetrable and amounts to a distancing effect, singing songs of inconsolable desire, with the detached assurance of somebody born to the manor of skilled out womanhood. While Diana is obviously enjoying herself, and is never less than than sublime when she is soloing on the piano, she remains detached and that detachment, it is a little like Drake’s extreme emotionalism played as depression calm although Diana plays it as distracted calm, is both enthralled and indifferent.
This leads to a misstep that I couldn’t get a handle on till drummer Karriem Riggins third solo of the evening, there is collectivism and then there is irritation, and Krall wobbles her band between the two. It’s not that the quintet isn’t excellent, it is, it is that she foregoes her own piano performance and leaves the road open for one solo after another and to be quite clear, if I wanted to go and see her band I doubt if I’d have ponied up $100 for a nosebleed to see em. To dumb it down a little, this is a bit of a highbrow snooze for an idiom named after sexual intercourse. The five piece band is all strings (fiddle, stand up bass, guitar, piano, plus drums), so when Diana covers “On The Sunny Side Of The Street,” you fill in the trumpet in the back of your mind and when you get Anthony Wilson on guitar (again) you find yourself sighing (again). By the time a pastel shaded “Night and Day” arrives you wonder if you should get out and push the damn set. Diana mentions how she loves the band so much she forgets she is in it and just wants to listen. They’re a good band, but she overplays it. Every song has two or three solos, and the pace slackens when it should jump out. We didn’t live through Wallflower and Glad Rag Doll to get here, quicken the damn pace. Oddly, the highlights were not the great American songbook stuff, a terrific brood of an “A Case Of You” and a high energy “Ophelia” (last time I heard that at the Beacon Levon Helm was singing it) were fantastic, and “Almost Blue” -well, maybe tat’s part of the songbook now…
Also oddly, Diana was a little quieter than usual, a funny comment about how she either never met the people who wrote her songs or she knew them very well, before “Almost Blue” was cut short with an “Or rather one songwriter… the children are here”, so because she was a little wary, right> I don’t know what her sons made of the evening, but I bet they prefer their daddy. The thing is jazz should be more fun than that, I get that the music and the lyric are at odds on “Blue Skies” but are they at this much odds? She is performing extended versions of songs she has gone out of her way to sublimate into a very mercurial form. Krall is so great that she shines through the late great Tommy LiPuma’s production and LiPuma was so great that Turn Up The Quiet bypasses the self-indulgence that Diana allows herself on stage. Okay, self indulgence is pushing it, but then her wish to let us hear what she hears is overdone and makes for a long evening of middle-brow entertainment. After all, she’s not that blonde.