Thursday, April 18, 2013
By Peter Landsdowne, TELEGRAM & GAZETTE REVIEWER
WORCESTER — The Hanover Theatre for the Performing Arts at 2 Southbridge Street celebrated its fifth anniversary Wednesday night with a dynamic performance by jazz singer and pianist Diana Krall, who has just launched a spring tour in support of "Glad Rag Doll," her latest recording on the Verve label. The show has already received rave reviews on its Canadian and European tours and should garner kudos as it travels around the United States this spring and fall.
The semi-autobiographical show is a departure of sorts for Krall, who is perhaps best known as a Grammy Award-winning jazz singer and pianist who has a winning way with The Great American Songbook. Now approaching the age of 50, she grew up in Nainomo, a small town on Vancouver Island off the coast of British Columbia, where her closely knit family enjoyed listening to old records, playing the piano, singing and watching old movies.
Krall was gigging as a jazz pianist by the age of 15. She studied at the Berklee College of Music in Boston for several years, but her real break came when jazz bassist Ray Brown suggested she move to Los Angeles to soak up the jazz scene there. She studied with jazz pianist Jimmy Rowles, who suggested that she throw in a few vocals to get more work. Fast-forward to the present, where the singer-pianist is one of the top-selling jazz artists on the planet.
Wearing a black waistcoat over a white smock and sporting black leather leggings and black leather boots, the statuesque blonde and her band (guitarist Aram Bajakian — a Worcester native, by the way; guitarist and violinist Stuart Duncan; keyboardist Patrick Warren; drummer Karriem Riggins; and bassist Dennis Crouch) took to a stage decorated by designers Colleen Atwood and Mark Seliger, who festooned the Hanover's burgundy drapes with lights representing the sun, the moon, and the stars.
"When the Curtain Comes Down," a video from the "Glad Rag Doll" album, played on the Hanover's big screen and brought the audience of more than 1,700 Krall buffs back to the roaring '20s, when the jazz was hot, vaudeville was king, and the flappers in Flo Ziegfeld's Follies danced The Charleston while sipping bathtub gin.
Krall then lit into "We Just Couldn't Say Goodbye" with some romping stride piano and a brassy vocal before moving effortlessly to "There Ain't No Sweet Man That's Worth the Salt of My Tears," a novelty song that the singer transformed into a belting blues. "You Know — I Know Everything's Made for Love" was in a similar jaunty vein and featured a hot ukulele solo from Duncan and some exceptional guitar improvisation from Bajakian.
Krall was more somber on "Just Like A Butterfly That's Caught in the Rain," which featured big screen footage of a butterfly woman, and on Gene Austin's "Let It Rain," which compared the rain to "an angel's tears from heaven" and was dedicated by the singer to the city of Boston and its current troubles.
Krall took a more contemporary turn by venturing into Tom Waits territory twice, first on a no-holds-barred version of "Temptation" and later on a gritty take of "The Heart of Saturday Night." She also excelled on breathy and contemplative version of "Almost Blue," which was penned by pop star Elvis Costello, Krall's husband of the last decade or so. The couple is raising twin boys "who like their father's music better than mine," the singer quipped.
Ms. Krall went back to the Roaring '20s for "Glad Rag Doll," which featured photographs of Alfred Cheney Johnston's portraits of 1920s Ziegfeld Follies girls on the Hanover's big screen."Glad rags" was 1920s slang for a woman's best finery. She was also in fine fettle for a "street song' medley that went from "On the Sunny Side of the Street" to "Lonely Avenue," a doleful ballad penned by Doc Pomus in the 1950s for Ray Charles, to "The Boulevard of Broken Dreams," which Krall sang soulfully in the style of Nat King Cole, an acknowledged influence. A nice touch: The big screen featured George Raft and Carole Lombard dancing the tango on "Boulevard."
The singer-pianist stayed in the Nat King Cole groove for a fast version of "Just You, Just Me" and then earned a standing ovation for her work on "I'm A Little Mixed Up," another bluesy 1920s riffer from the new recording.
Krall was at her best on her encore, "Prairie Lullaby," Billy Hill's lilting song. "I sing this to the twins," she said. "They don't fall asleep to it, but it makes them happy." The singer's beautifully wrought vocal on this song, most notably sung by Jimmie Rodgers, even featured some yodeling.
"Glad Rag Doll" album has been nominated for a 2013 Juno Award, the Canadian equivalent of the Grammy, in the Vocal Jazz Album of the Year category, a fact that underscores the Hanover's mission: To bring world-class performing artists to the venue. May the Hanover celebrate many more anniversaries after this fifth one.