In true jazzy tradition, Diana Krall’s restless creative spirit ensures that each tour is a markedly different adventure. In 2004, she unveiled some of her own songwriting for the first time and toured it with an intimate ensemble. In 2009, she donned evening gowns and sang in front of a 40-piece orchestra, highlighting the Samba-feel of her Quiet Nights album. Now she’s traveling farther back in time.
Finishing up the American leg of her current trek at the Moody Theater Tuesday night, Krall put an early-twentieth-century slant on her set that’s in-step with her most recent studio collection, the T-Bone Burnett-produced Glad Rag Doll. The disc revels in a vaudevillian time warp which she explained was largely inspired by 78rpm records her dad would play on his collection of old gramophones, one of which was perched at the far end of the stage.
Krall’s devotion to her craft elevates her beyond mere entertainer status; her dexterous piano playing and the breadth of her tastes have expanded her songbook into eclectic territories that never fail to surprise and delight. And while the new disc has received undue criticism as an ill-suited departure, the 48-year old Canadian wife of Elvis Costello proved that it fits right into her grand scheme, packing the obscure ragtime choices between standards and cherry-picked singer-songwriter surprises. The emphasis was on quality song choices more than any one genre.
Krall may have seemed a bit nervous when addressing the crowd, but her confidence spoke through the music, as she fearlessly sandwiched an eloquently-phrased cover of Neil Young’s “A Man Needs a Maid” between ancient tunes by Fats Waller and Fred E. Ahlert, all of which were performed on an upright player piano. If she were any less of a talent, the oddball stew of contemporary and classic would likely spoil. But with charisma and surprising pockets of vocal expression, she was able to meld tracks written by Buddy Miller and The Band with songs made famous by Ray Charles and Nat King Cole as if they were always meant to exist side-by-side. Out of context, her Latin-tinged take on Dylan’s “Subterranean Homesick Blues” could be construed as blasphemy, but the ballsy swagger oozing from her delivery made it hard to resist.
Dennis Crouch’s upright bass and Kareem Riggins’ drumming made certain Krall had a solid rhythm section beneath her, but the standout band members were Aram Bajakian on guitar - an Armenian New Yorker who's worked with folks like John Zorn and Lou Reed - and Stewart Duncan. Bajakian let loose on a number of impressive solos, in particular a scorching tear through Tom Waits' "Tempation." Duncan, meanwhile, is the game-changing factor for this tour, infusing choices far and wide with old-timey flair via fiddle, ukulele, and banjo. Krall admitted to being a lousy ukulele player, but said she still considered it a sexy instrument - particularly when played while submerged in a bathtub of gin once the kids are asleep.
“The lower the bathwater gets, the better it sounds,” she joked.
The nearly two-and-a-half-hour performance was set on a stage of crushed red velvet curtains, clamshell lights and a towering crescent moon. Throughout, a screen played vintage dancing girls, Fritz Lang-style film loops and cameo-clips of famous actors. Krall timed her entrance to a sequence featuring Steve Buscemi singing “When the Curtain Comes Down” as a way of leading into her own version of the song, which actually closes Glad Rag Doll.
Say what you will about Diana Krall, her sustained baby-boomer popularity and sexpot good looks… but there’s nothing jazzier than knowing how to break all the rules as well as she does.
Photos By Amy Price
Words By Chris Treacy
By Amy Price in Arts & Entertainment on May 13, 2013 11:03 AM