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[MUSIC REVIEW] Diana Krall at Tanglewood

7.5.09

TANGLEWOOD
Koussevitzky Shed
DIANA KRALL

July 4, 2009


Diana Krall at Tanglewood on July 4, 2009 [photo by Hilary Scott/courtesy BSO]


Review by Seth Rogovoy


(LENOX, Mass., July 5, 2009) -- It was a new, improved, almost utterly transformed Diana Krall who headlined the Independence Day festivities at Tanglewood last night.


Krall has been a frequent performer at Tanglewood over the years, first as a support act, then on co-bills with the likes of Tony Bennett, and more recently as a headliner. Throughout this time, she has impressed for her technical competence, but rarely won over a crowd on the basis of personality or showmanship. In fact, her diffidence onstage in the past provoked some discomfort among those drawn to the singer/pianist's neo-jazz pop aesthetic, until now best showcased on her terrific recordings.


One kept returning to see Krall, however, in the hopes that her comfort level onstage would match her indisputable talent. With disappointment following disappointment, however, it was with some misgivings and reluctance that we chanced yet another headlining show in the Shed last night.


As it turned out, the Krall who performed at Tanglewood this fourth of July was an entirely different species from the diffident, if not downright soporific performer of past years.


Krall finally seems comfortable in her own clothes (and quite a black dress it was, not to mention to her spiky high heels). Rather than fight her innate shyness, Krall seems to have embraced it, and now makes it a part of her act. She was an engaging host and performer, peppering her diverse, well-paced program with stories that may have meandered a bit but served to humanize her in a manner lacking in past concerts. And in her stories, which often circled around her contentment with her life as a mother of twin boy toddlers and wife of pop-rock visionary Elvis Costello, she always found a way to circle back to the music.


Krallís ninety-minute set was a diverse, eclectic blend of swing, classic pop, and the bossa nova style that has become one of her signatures. With the aid of her terrific quartet and occasional backing by a chamber orchestra, she kept things moving musically by not settling down into any particular style, but by constantly shifting around, playing an upbeat swing tune followed by a Sinatra-style croon followed by a Brazilian jaunt followed by an exercise in stride or bebop pianism.


Krall showcased all her considerable talents and assets. Her oft-overlooked piano playing was given equal weight to her more popular vocal style, which in opposition to the prevailing, overwrought jazz-pop aesthetic is all about subtlety. With the aid of her naturally dusky alto, Krall shows how understatement can be as suggestive as dynamism, and she is a master at individualistic phrasing and melodic improvisation.


Her piano playing was equally powerful in its minimalism; her musical statements were assertive in their strength and her mastery of a wide vocabulary as well as a seemingly infinite well of musical sources, such that several of her instrumental passages included appropriate allusions to the July 4th holiday with patriotic hymns and marches elided into standard tunes.


The quartet and orchestral arrangements were all in service of the material, and her musicians were given just the exact amount of room to express their own individuality without stealing the focus away from the headliner, who was funny, gracious, and alluring, all at once.


At one point, in one of her many references to Costello, she reassured listeners not to worry, that she would not be offering a bossa nova version of his classic rocker, "Pump It Up." And while there was no need for her to rely on such a gimmick to get across the fact that, either through happiness in her life or overt coaching by Costello -- a master entertainer himself with an affinity for much of the music Krall plays, including Burt Bacharach tunes -- she is a born-again entertainer herself, one doesn't doubt that she could pull off such a musical tribute, if she so wanted, with stylish integrity. Because by the end of her stellar concert, she'd convinced at least one listener that she could do anything she wants.




Seth Rogovoy is Berkshire Living's award-winning editor-in-chief and music critic.










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