If you took the time to catch Diana Krall on the road in recent months, you would have seen a talented mainstream jazz pianist fascinated by the possibilities of making music. You would have heard an interpretative singer fully capable of holding a large audience spellbound. And leaving the concert, you would not have suspected that the jazz artist on the stage would be almost entirely absent from her own next record.
The problem with The Look of Love, Diana Krall’s latest CD, rests not in the concept, a collection of standard ballads done in a bossa nova style, but in the execution. Ms. Krall has said recently that for this project she put her complete trust in arranger Claus Ogerman. That appears to have been a mistake. Mr. Ogerman is not an arranger of the caliber of Johnny Mandel, who helmed Ms. Krall’s Grammy-winning When I Look In Your Eyes. Mr. Ogerman seems to have written his charts, a couple of which sound recycled from Amoroso, his collaboration with Joao Gilberto, without ever having listened to Diana Krall. As a jazz singer, Ms. Krall comes out of Carmen McRae and Shirley Horn. Silence, space and shifting dynamics are essential components of her interpretive approach. Her most powerful ballad performances have always involved minimal or discreet accompaniment. However, throughout The Look of Love, whenever Ms. Krall so much as pauses to take a breath, Mr. Ogerman’s strings come swelling up and crashing down like a tidal wave wiping out expensive oceanfront property. He drowns an otherwise gutsy performance of “I Get Along Without You Very Well” in a pool of unredeemable schmaltz.
If all of Ms. Krall’s vocals were on the same level as her performance of that Hoagy Carmichael tune, then The Look of Love would be a much better record. Sadly, her phrasing, filled with oddly shaped lines and stagy whispers, too often sounds artificial. She completely fumbles “A Night We Called It a Day” and “Dancing in the Dark,” two tunes that are perfectly suited to her emotionally reticent persona. Even when she dispenses with the mannerisms, as on “Cry Me a River,” she still holds back turning in performances that are tepid and overly polite. The title cut is enhanced enormously by a generous helping of Ms. Krall’s piano, which is otherwise a muted presence.
It is only on the final track, “Maybe You’ll Be There,” that Ms. Krall finally delivers the goods. She transforms the song’s lyric into a deeply personal confession filled with painful regret and foolish hope. While it is still too little and too late to justify what has come before, it is just enough to suggest what could, and should, have been.