Diana Krall helps concertgoers celebrate Independence Day
by Seth Rogovoy
(LENOX, Mass., July 5, 2004) – Although she has appeared at Tanglewood and with the Boston Pops several times over the years, jazz singer/pianist Diana Krall was still something of a left-field choice to headline Tanglewood’s annual Independence Day festivities. That role has typically been reserved for a more mainstream, popular, folk- or country-based artist.
One could of course make the claim that nothing is more American, homegrown and reflective of our democracy than jazz, and that it only makes sense to cap off a half-day’s worth of entertainment with music stemming from that tradition. But then, aside from her popularity as one of the biggest draws in contemporary jazz, Krall still might not be the first choice, as her music is generally reflective of only a small part of that tradition.
Credit then goes to Krall and maybe to Tanglewood, too, for defying expectations and conventional wisdom and serving up an entertaining if at times mellow program that concluded the musical portion of the day’s celebration. And more credit goes to Krall for exhibiting more far-reaching musical interests than she has in past shows. No longer exclusively a revivalist of Nat “King” Cole- and Peggy Lee-style pop-jazz, Krall traveled down several musical paths on Sunday night in her 90-minute concert in the Shed that preceded the event’s always-stunning closer, the Fourth of July fireworks display.
Backed by her terrific quartet, including guitarist Anthony Wilson, bassist Robert Hurst and drummer Peter Erskine, Krall came out swinging with some challenging, authentic bebop, for which each instrumentalist was given a solo turn. In spite of the fact that her program in large part consisted of the sort of songs and arrangements with subtle dynamics better suited to an intimate cabaret than the cavernous shed and lawn, Krall effectively connected with the audience on a version of Mose Allison’s “Stop This World,” a bit of bluesy noir-jazz that suits her new and improved persona as a diva of some darkness.
Krall didn’t wait long before acknowledging the autobiographical element to this musical and lifestyle transformation, introducing the terrific title song to her great new CD, “The Girl in the Other Room,” as “a song by one of my favorite composers, Elvis Costello, co-written by his wife,” meaning herself. She began the tune singing just with Wilson’s accompaniment, before the band kicked in and brought the number home with some of Costello’s trademark Bacharachian chromatic flourishes. She followed that up with Costello’s “Almost Blue,” stretching out that would-be standard with even more languor than Chet Baker did before her, and ending the song on an impossible blue note on the word “blue.”
Krall touched on other aspects of her career and music, including a bossa nova, some Peggy Lee, and some barrelhouse Fats Domino. But the other highlights were newer material including the Costello co-write, “Abandoned Masquerade,” and a version of Joni Mitchell’s “Black Crow” that inspired her husky alto to its utmost expansiveness while also proving that not only Norah Jones can steal a trick from Cassandra Wilson.
Gospel-roots sextet Ollabelle warmed up the crowd for Krall. The young singers and musicians revived a repertoire of spirituals like “Elijah Rock” and “Down By the Riverside” and mystical-themed blues by Blind Willie Johnson and reinterpreted them through a post-modern scrim of psychedelia and gauzy harmonies. The highlight was singer/keyboardist Glenn Patscha’s version of Johnson’s “John the Revelator,” turned into spooky gospel-blues that evoked Patscha’s New Orleans homebody Dr. John and featured lively, call-and-response vocals with the group’s two female singers, Fiona McBain and Amy Helm. The group closed its segment of the show with a wide-open version of “Down By the Riverside,” the arrangement of which, probably unintentionally given Helm’s role in the group, evoked the aesthetic of the early solo albums by her father Levon Helm’s former bandmate and current nemesis, Robbie Robertson.
[This review originally appeared in the Berkshire Eagle on July 6, 2004. Copyright Seth Rogovoy 2004. All rights reserved.]
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