Those who have spent the last year or so on the International Space Station or shipwrecked on a deserted island may be forgiven for not knowing about Diana Krall's crossover conquest of the Jazz and Adult Contemporary charts; everyone else not familiar with Ms. Krall's visage, smooth sounds, and last recording The Look of Love will instantly receive a failing grade.
Live In Paris, Krall's first live album, was recorded in a series of performances last November29 through December 2 at the Paris Olympia. Ably accompanied by her combo of guitarist Anthony Wilson, bassist John Clayton, and drummer Jeff Hamilton (supplemented on several tracks by the Orchestre Symphonique Europeen under the direction of Alan Broadbent), Krall moves deftly through a set split between the post-bop Nat Cole trio-inspired numbers that first brought her to the public's attention and the smoother, orchestral sounds of Look of Love. For example, she opens with the Peggy Lee/William Schluger-penned "I Love Being Here With You", which she recorded on her second album Only Trust Your Heart. Her swinging piano work is in evidence here in a way it never was on Look of Love, and her singing is more carefree (listen to her end the song with the scat phrase "Ray Brown!"). She follows up with the orchestrally arranged "Let's Fall In Love", but the strings are never allowed to get in the way of a supremely swinging rendition of the song. The track is defined by Krall's piano and Wilson's guitar, and the section in which they play unison with the Orchestra's vibraphonist, trading fours with Clayton, is the kind of sharp ensemble work usually heard behind Frank Sinatra.
Diana's rendition of "'Deed I Do", from her 1996 tribute to Nat King Cole All For You shows her piano chops, influenced by Jimmy Rowles. The group really gels on this number, and you'll instantly forget all the talk about Krall being some kind of crossover sellout. Indeed, those who went to see her perform live during the last year heard precisely this kind of show: sharp, witty, urbane jazz played by a skillful combo at times augmented with an orchestra. It's the same tasteful territory that has been occupied successfully for years by British pianist George Shearing as well as younger guitarist/singer John Pizzarelli.
Of course Krall's rendition of "The Look of Love" is here, and it's pretty much the same as the studio version, which is to say too slow. It's a pop song and requires a dramatic pop singer; to me, no one is going to outdo Dusty Springfield's version, and Krall doesn't, choosing to occupy a space somewhere between pop, jazz, and bossa nova that doesn't really have the charm of any one of those genres. She does, however, manage a nicely constructed piano solo that is almost wholly constructed of bop-type runs, settling into the bossa groove only as she is about to jump back in vocally. "East of the Sun (and West of the Moon)" gets back into the small group groove, with Clayton taking a nice solo that shifts from plucked to bowed. Next comes "I've Got You Under My Skin", another too-slow orchestral arrangement on which guitarist John Pisano augments the usual group. My major complaint about Live In Paris would have to be the way these slower numbers break up the more swinging small group pieces. I'm certainly not averse to ballads (for example, the quartet handles "Maybe You'll Be There" just fine), but The Look of Love had no verve at all (no pun intended), a trend that first started to show through on 1999's When I Look In Your Eyes. Since these are the two albums that introduced Krall to a wider audience, I assume we'll be hearing this type of thing for some time to come. Still, it's very heartening to hear Krall and company swinging away on many of the numbers on Live In Paris. Krall revs things up again, taking her "Devil May Care" intro from a pretty melodic interlude to a hot up-tempo solo before the group kicks in.
Krall moves things along with an authentic bossa version of "'S Wonderful" that again brings in John Pisano and percussionist Paulinho Da Costa. Diana is much more relaxed and spontaneous sounding on this number than on "The Look of Love", which I think demonstrates the way the larger arrangements tend to constrict her in ways that choke the life from her performances. Then there's "Fly Me to the Moon", a song that couldn't be more associated with Sinatra himself. And she takes it at pretty much the same tempo as Sinatra, inviting comparison. While some are going to prefer Sinatra no matter what, Krall's playful phrasing is impeccable (what else would you expect from a talented musician?) and her piano work packs all the swinging punch of a big band arrangement. It's a great way for Krall to go out. She returns for a solo encore on Joni Mitchell's "A Case of You", which Jane Monheit also covered on her last CD. Fortunately, Krall's rendition is much more inventive and displays a much deeper reading of the lyrics as well as some nice reharmonization and bluesy piano runs. It isn't much like Mitchell's original recorded version, but it does share some similarities with the version Mitchell did for her Both Sides Now album.
The final track is a studio rendition of Billy Joel's "Just the Way You Are" featuring Michael Brecker on tenor sax and Christian McBride on bass. It's from a movie soundtrack and is probably going to be some folks' favorite track on the album, but as for me, I think I'll program it out. There's nothing different in the arrangement and therefore, seemingly, no reason at all for Krall to have tackled this song. Plenty of other jazz musicians and singers did it when it was au courante; Krall's version adds nothing and simply looks like a case of looking for a surefire pop hit. That isn't going to sit well with those who maintain that Krall has long ago ceased to be a jazz musician of any standing, and that's unfortunate because there is plenty of evidence on Live In Paris that says otherwise.
Reprinted with permission. Copyright Marshall Bowden and Jazzitude.com .
Personnel: Michael Brecker - Sax (Tenor),
Jeff Hamilton - Drums,
Rob Mounsey - Keyboards,
Lewis Nash - Drums,
John Clayton - Bass,
Paulinho Da Costa - Percussion,
Christian McBride - Bass,
John Pisano - Guitar (Acoustic),
Diana Krall - Piano, Vocals, Fender Rhodes,
Anthony Wilson - Guitar,
Luis Quintero - Percussion