BY SAMUEL COTTELL
Diana Krall with the Sydney Symphony Orchestra
Sydney Opera House, 29 January
Those who have followed Diana Krall’s career since her first album in 1993 will know she is a singer of musical depth and clarity. Her own introspective and thoughtful renditions of songs have seen her perform tunes from American songbook classics to Joni Mitchell and beyond. It was in this setting that Krall and her brilliant band, backed by the Sydney Symphony Orchestra, presented a cross section of her career, displaying the magnitude of her abilities as an artist.
The evening opened with the crowd-pleasing ‘Deed I Do’. The up-tempo swing number set the tone of freedom and spontaneity throughout the concert. When Krall soloed here her rhythmic and harmonic language were more daring than what audiences might be used to. This gave her playing a hard hitting jazz edge that would surely have pleased the jazz aficionados in the audience.
Krall introduced the SSO to the audience for their first appearance on the Johnny Mandel-arranged tune of Gershwin’s ‘Do It Again’. Here, Krall and the band were languid and stripped back as the beautifully voiced strings and flutes, coupled with muted trumpet and mellow French horns to provide a creamy harmonic filling.
The most effective tune of the evening was Edward Hayman and Victor Young’s tune ‘Love Letters’ with a brilliant arrangement by Claus Ogerman. The string section was in fine form, particularly in its extended instrumental. ‘Sunny Side of the Street’ also deserves a mention and the arrangement had a Django Reinhardt gypsy vibe to it, which saw guitarist Anthony Wilson switch to an acoustic guitar. This tune fit perfectly with the setting of the Opera House stage which had been draped with long black curtains and colourful lighting projected onto them, appearing as though the audience was in a 1920s vaudeville club.
Krall often cites the influence of Nat King Cole on her career. As well as a singer (for which he is most known) Cole was also an exceptional jazz pianist and Krall has modelled her own career and style on Cole, something she is not afraid to admit. The up-tempo performance of ‘Just You, Just Me’ was happily infused with a great love and passion for this music. Stuart Duncan’s fiddle solo in this song was simply marvellous and it reminded me of Cole’s own performance on the album ‘After Midnight’, which also featured the fiddle prominently.
At the centre of the evening was Tom Waitt’s ‘Temptation’. Here the band was the centre focus as the orchestra took a break. Each of the members played extended solos. Guitarist Anthony Wilson was stunning in his guitar solo and took the tune into all sorts of exciting directions. Also extending her song repertoire, Krall included performances of Bob Dylan’s ‘Wallflower’ and the Eagles’ ‘California Dreamin”. These two were not overly effective and Krall’s minimalistic approach made these songs seem more dreary than they are in the first place. David Forster’s string arrangements were as dull as they come, especially when placed next to arrangements by Claus Ogerman and Johnny Mendel.
Krall was equally effective when performing on her own. The lighting dimmed to a soft hue and focused on the piano to create an extremely intimate space. Her own mellow interpretation of Irving Berlin’s ‘Let’s Face the Music and Dance’ was simply stunning and at its conclusion there was a long period of stillness. She followed this with Joni Mitchell’s ‘A Case of You’, again deeply and tenderly providing an understated interpretation.
When Krall and her crackerjack band returned to the stage for an encore, they provided us with another Claus Ogerman arrangement in the form of Burt Bacharach’s ‘The Look of Love’. Here the strings provided a lush backing on which Krall gracefully sprinkled notes in the upper register of the piano. Concluding the evening was a mellow and simply stunning performance of ‘I’ll String Along with You’.
I must, however, digress and comment on the poor efforts of the sound crew who were less than adequate in providing good mixing and balance throughout the evening. It seemed as though they didn’t understand this music or how it is meant to sound and Krall was often drowned out amongst the backdrop of instruments, even though she had a microphone. To add to this was an irritating clicking sound that was emanating from a speaker somewhere in the concert hall for the entire evening and was not fixed until the encore. I found this excruciating to hear, particularly when Krall was performing on her own. The audience, too, seemed overly distracting – constantly coming in and out of the constant hall, dropping things on the floor and talking for most of the concert.
Putting all this aside, we have seen Krall navigate any music style. Her minimalist interpretations of these songs greatly enhanced their meanings and provided deep insight to the lyrics. You can tell that Krall, who might appear to have a nervous stage presence, really knows who she is a singer and is not afraid to use any style to express herself.