Jazz/pop songstress Diana Krall loves playing Nashville, and the attraction is mutual. Friday night she returned to the Schermerhorn Symphony Center in the midst of her biggest tour since 2009, and played an exhaustive, mostly outstanding 135-minute set plus encore before another sellout crowd.
She got a loud ovation initially, and standing ones at the end of the show and encore. Plus there were frequent enthusiastic responses and immediate recognition of many songs. Krall liberally sprinkled in favorites from her 12-LP catalog that’s earned her five Grammys and multiple gold and platinum awards over a career that dates back to the mid-’90s.
Ironically, it’s that popularity that has also garnered some distrust from that sector of the jazz universe that automatically cries foul whenever an artist gets mass approval. Krall’s sultry, enchanting voice, which remains engaging and delightful, shies away from scatting. She’s also not necessarily as bluesy as that of a traditional jazz diva, or even as much as one of her idols, Peggy Lee. Plus Krall’s repertoire over the years has expanded to include selections from rockers and folkies.
Her piano style has improved considerably. She’s more fluid and at ease with either hand, a better soloist, and often she weaved some intricate intervals, clever phrases and bold runs into her accompaniment. Krall deftly covers a lot of territory as a stylist. It ranges from Tin Pan Alley/Broadway to bossa nova, swing and romantic serenades. She’ll perform a Leon Russell number one minute, then a Nat King Cole. Ultimately, Krall’s show appeals to music lovers of all eras, but is anathema to anyone with a preference solely for one period or style.
Krall also has a great band anchoring her during this 40-city “Summer Nights” tour. Guitarist Anthony Wilson can be elegant, powerful, introspective or explosive. He consistently demonstrated his formidable talents in every area throughout the set. The rhythm section of bassist Robert Hurst and drummer Karriem Riggins were understated on the pop/rock tunes, on top of the straight jazz numbers, and easily navigating the Latin pieces. No one can now accurately accuse Krall of avoiding improvisation or musically coasting. This trio alternately pushes and complements her, always knowing when it’s time to shift gears.
There were numerous highlights, among them an exquisite performance of “Quiet Nights,” the title selection from her Grammy-winning 10th studio release, and a flamboyant rendition of “Dancing Cheek to Cheek.” Krall had one of her few missteps during its opening moments, mainly because blues and boogie-woogie aren’t her forte. She seemed to lose her footing midway through a transitional section. But she worked her way back to the melody, then kicked the song into full gear, and offered a strong lead vocal. She was at her best instrumentally and vocally on “I’ve Grown Accustomed To Your Face,” “East of the Sun (And West of the Moon),” and especially striking on her cover of Bob Dylan’s “Simple Twist of Fate,” which is featured on a recent Dylan tribute.
Other memorable turns include a spicy version of Jobim’s “Este Seu Olhar,” and an interesting take on the Beatles’ “Come Together,” one of the night’s final selections. Her encore included an excellent cover of “The Frim-Fram Sauce,” a Nat King Cole Trio hit from the mid-’40s. Krall sang it with the right mix of good-natured fun and rhythmic energy, while Wilson, Hurst and Riggins nicely propelled it along.
With a new release “Glad Rag Doll” coming in September, plus this tour, Krall’s clearly plans to make the rest of 2012 another major period of her already remarkable career, particularly for a jazz-based performer in the 21st century. Her Friday night show again revealed she’s found the secret to maintaining both commercial appeal and musical integrity. You don’t sacrifice the latter to gain the former.