Thursday, 13 March 2014

Review: Diana Krall - A Night In Paris

Diana Krall in little less than a decade successfully won both fans from the jazz world as well as an adoring mainstream audience. Each time too she gradually seemed to be moving away from the piano chair of her jazz trio into a more refined sultry jazz singer. And where her earlier albums always gathered strong and positive reviews, her less trio-focused works have always been on the ‘politely’ or ‘approvingly’ positive side rather than enthusiastic praise that her first few recordings received.

And so after the politely received and massively selling ‘The Look Of Love’, and a very successful global tour, came Diana Krall’s first live album; ‘A Night In Paris’, recorded over a series of five nights at the prestigious Paris Olympia. Krall comes backed by a great band consisting of guitarist Anthony Wilson, bassist John Clayton and drummer Jeff Hamilton, and only on some tracks is she backed by the superb Orchestre Symphonique European. Happily the material is split nicely between the Nat Cole Trio-inspired music that brought her first into the limelight and the later smoother more orchestral work that has made her the favourite of the dinner-party circuit.

Opening with the swinging ‘I Love Being Here With You, from her second album, her superb piano is fully involved, much missed after an almost complete absence from ‘The Look Of Love’. And even better, her singing is more free and impassioned than has been recently witnessed. Of course, to keep the larger fanbase happy, she then switches to the orchestral-backed ‘Let’s Fall In Love’. But very surprisingly, the orchestra doesn’t define the piece; Krall’s piano and Wilson’s guitar lead the way, and they do so flawlessly.

The flow of older, uptempo jazz followed by slower, mellower tunes continues, with ‘Deed I Do’ taken from Krall’s excellent Nat King Cole tribute album ‘All For You’. The quartet really come together and plays fantastically, with the piano well to the fore and sounding brilliant. It is disappointing then that it is immediately followed by her take on ‘The Look Of Love’. Too slow, sounding just like the lumpen studio version, and lacking really any dramatic feel to it, it tries to be a pop song in a jazz style with a bossa nova flair and fails at all three. It does though have the benefit of one of Krall’s beautifully played piano interludes.

‘East Of The Sun’ picks things back up again for the trio setting, while ‘I’ve Got You Under My Skin’ straight after suffers again from too sedentary a tempo. Happily, the final half of the disc is the much better half, with a relaxed bossa ‘S‘Wonderful’ and a superb swinging ‘Fly Me To The Moon’ with some impeccable piano work and vocal phrasing from Krall.

An encore then comes in the form of an excellent Joni Mitchell number ‘A Case Of You’, before needlessly being followed by an unsubtlely tacked on studio track, no doubt for the benefit of the marketing team at Verve. A cover of Billy Joel’s ‘Just The Way You Are’, a song even he wasn’t happy with (hence his refusal to ever play it live), Krall’s version adds nothing, lacks personality and seems to be here solely to provide a hit to promote the album.

A live jazz album can be a truly awesome recording, and if a gig of Krall’s earlier career with just a trio had been recorded, one can only imagine how much more thrilling it would have been. Unfortunately here the swinging fire of the small group is broken up by the slower ballads that pulled in the larger audiences from albums ‘When I Look In Your Eyes’ and ‘The Look Of Love’. Maybe better sequencing might have given a better result, but what we get instead is a stop-start effect that is probably not going to satisfy either the older Krall jazz fans or the newer audience she’s recently attracted.

After ‘The Look Of Love’ many have unfairly made a case against Diana Krall and her music and that she is simply now no longer a jazz musician of any notable standing. Though there is sadly evidence to support that here. There is also amongst the excellent quartet pieces plenty of evidence that suggests just the opposite. ‘A Night In Paris’ is a good recording of both Diana Kralls –  early jazz firebird, and later ballad songstress – but assembled in the way it is here, and with an obvious grab for her new audience in the form of a lack-lustre song performed blandly bolted on to the end, it all just feels ‘messy’. If you like the earlier grittier Krall, you’ll enjoy six of the numbers here and you’ll have an excellent six-track live mini-album. If you like the later candlelit bathroom-esque Krall, you’ll like six of the numbers here and you’ll have almost identical versions of songs you’ll already have, and one pop-jazz tune you won’t want to have. For the most part though, it just feels like a missed opportunity. Disappointing.


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