It’s a phenomenon that can only happen in jazz. Unlike in pop music where audiences come to hear tried and true hits and maybe a few obligatory cuts from a new recording, jazz greats – and particularly those like Diana Krall whose entire discography is defined by their unique trademark interpretations of classics – pretty much have free reign with their set list on any given night.
Currently celebrating 30 years since the release of her debut album Steppin’ Out, the three-time Grammy, eight-time Juno Award winning singer and pianist – truly one of the most beloved, critically acclaimed and internationally bestselling jazz artists during that span – had a massive catalog to draw from in creating her 75-minute set with the always-vibrant Clayton-Hamilton Jazz Orchestra at the Hollywood Bowl. Because the effortless chemistry and conversational dynamic between the intimate, smoky voiced Krall and this consummate big band and its brilliant soloists is guaranteed to be soulful and rousing no matter what the repertoire, it bears mentioning when the set list seems top heavy with some material at the expense of so much else.
Had her performance been just two nights later – after the passing of one of her recent collaborators, the great Tony Bennett – she might have adjusted the program to include a gem or two from their Gershwin-themed 2018 #1 Billboard Jazz album Love Is Here to Stay in tribute. As it was, there was an inexplicable ultra-heavy focus – seven out of ten songs in the set – on her well-reviewed 2006 collection From This Moment On.
Nothing wrong with that, per se. Doing simple research later, we can perhaps understand this choice of repertoire as rooted in the fact that this particular album featured the CHJO - but great as it was, it’s a 17-year-old recording. Bassist John Clayton, drummer Jeff Hamilton and guitarist Anthony Wilson have worked on countless other Krall projects as well – with Clayton and Hamilton part of her first “crew” when she moved from Boston (where she attended Berklee College of Music) to L.A. and the core of the session when she recorded her debut.
All those caveats on material aside, the show was quick paced, the rhythm and brass arrangements were cool, engaging, alternately popping and subtly swinging, the solos by Clayton, Hamilton, Wilson and saxophonist Rickey Woodard off the charts (literally and figuratively) and Krall used the rougher, raspier edges notable in her voice to convey added layers of emotion and urgency beyond her usual gentle sultriness. She was particularly effective on the opening numbers, the whimsical “It Could Happen to You,” the robust, high energy “From This Moment On” and the laid back ballad “Isn’t It A Lovely Day,” which she began with whispery tones.
The expansive arrangement of this latter tune, which heats up into a bluesy groove at one point, allowed Krall to showcase her formidable skills as a sensitive yet often freewheeling solo pianist. One of the true instrumental highlights of the show came after her vocal on “Do Nothing Till You Hear From Me,” when she followed Wilson’s speedy guitar solo with her sly, funky piano solo. While more uptempo tunes like “I Was Doing Alright” and “Day In Day Out” showcased a spirited, devil may care side of her and the band’s artistry, for sheer crowd pleasing intimacy, the true heart and soul of the set was her sweet, breathy (and again, a bit whispery), uniquely phrased subtle spin on “I’ve Got You Under My Skin.”
Opening for Krall was the fresh Washington DC based trio of Kendall Isadore (violin), Dawn Johnson (viola) and Elise Sharp (cello), collectively and appropriately known as The String Queens, who created rousing and ultra-creative three string, classically tinged arrangements of instantly familiar pop tunes like Gnarls Barkley’s “Crazy,” “Despacito,” “September” “Billie Jean/Smooth Criminal” and “Eleanor Rigby.”