Thursday, April 23, 2009

Review of Krall's yesterday concert @ MTS Centre

MTS Centre, Winnipeg - April 22, 2009
Review by Darryl Sterdan - "Sun Media" (Canada)

"I love my life," asserted Diana Krall midway through her concert at MTS Centre concert bowl Wednesday night.

That was no surprise. After all, what is not to love? At 44, Krall's got it all. She's the most popular and successful female artist in contemporary jazz. She's married to an up-and-coming songwriter named Elvis Costello. She's a happy new mom to twin sons Dexter and Frank. She works with some of the most talented and celebrated musicians, arrangers and producers in the music industry. She still looks like a million bucks. She's got a new CD on the racks -- and it's in the top 10 on the Billboard charts. And she's in the midst of a concert tour that has her ambling around the world with her brood in tow, playing some of her most beloved songs accompanied by her longtime touring band and supported by symphony orchestras.

Yep, it's no wonder Krall is "having happy days right now." And her contentment was evident in every second, every note and every word of her performance. You could hear it in the well-balanced set list of smoky ballads, upbeat swing, bop workouts and bossa nova. You could hear it in the affectionate numbers that were either inspired by or dedicated to her husband and family. And you could hear it in every anecdote and aside of her chatty, affable 105-minute set.

Taking the stage in a flattering black cocktail dress, high heels and dangly wire earrings twisted up like bunches of grapes, Krall wasted no time, limbering up her nimble backing combo -- drummer Jeff Hamilton, guitarist Anthony Wilson and standup bassist Robert Hurst -- with a spry, hepped-up sprint through Peggy Lee's I Love Being Here With You, from her 1995 album Only Trust Your Heart. Krall tossed off a striking solo, playing the same licks simultaneously with both hands. But she got upstaged by drummer Hamilton, who dropped a stick during his solo but quickly turned his flub into a plus, dropping his other stick and working his four-piece kit with his bare hands.

It was one of the rare slipups in what was basically an otherwise flawlessly executed performance from all concerned. Krall's breathy, sultry vocals were in fine form, displaying no trace of a cold that has apparently been dogging her recently (though she did surreptitiously blow her nose a couple of times during the show). Her playing -- particularly her expressive, fluid right hand -- was stylish and impeccable without being ostentatious. Her trio supported her with near-telepathic skill and style -- Hamilton's gently swinging beats were the picture of understatement, Wilson's energetically burbling solos and sleek chords were a joy to behold, and Hurst's thick, massive basslines had the crowd in awe. The sound was so crisp, clean and clear you could hear every cymbal ping and brushed snare. The Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra, as always, discharged their responsibilities admirably and professionally, using renowned arranger Claus Ogerman's lush string and horn charts to add layers of extra texture to Krall's set list of jazz and pop standards.

And it wasn't a bad set list at all, with four songs from Krall's new bossa nova-themed set Quiet Nights, and another 11 numbers cherrypicked from most of her studio albums. Do It Again was offered up as a sultry, string-sweetened blues. The Sinatra classic Where or When, Quiet Nights and Burt Bacharach's Walk on By gently swayed to their lightly Latin grooves. Nat King Cole's 'Deed I Do and I Don't Know Enough About You (another Lee tune) gave Krall a chance to stretch her blues and stride-piano muscles. Let's Fall in Love and Exactly Like You were loungy and sophisticated yet personable.

But not more personable than Krall herself. Although often portrayed as aloof and distant, she was nothing short of charming and talkative. And not in some fake, here's-a-story-about-my-wonderful-new-album kind of way -- in fact, Krall never even mentioned her CD. Instead, she gushed about her "really great husband," and dedicated I've Grown Accustomed to Your Face to him. She humbly called herself "just another working mom on the road, trying to figure out stuff to do with the kids" -- and endeared herself to 3,000 or so ardently attentive fans in MTS Centre's concert bowl by listing all the local attractions she's taken in, from The Forks and the Children's Museum to the Manitoba Museum's dinosaurs, Nonesuch display and Charlie Chaplin films. She joked about being excited to meet U.S. President Obama -- only to have him ask, "So, your husband is Elvis Costello?" And she interrupted one solo piano workout to tell a story about playing the piece in a bar in front of another pianist, who told her "I had to work on my left hand." Then she turned back to the keyboard, cued the band and knocked out a killer solo full of big ringing chords that made it clear her left hand is in fine shape.

Just like the rest of her life.

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