February 2018

By Bob Doerschuk

Photography by Rob Lindsay

“No intermission tonight.” “There’s no intermission — just one 90-minute set.”

So said the ticket takers, ushers and pretty much everyone greeting audience members on Tuesday night, Feb. 13, as they filed into Schermerhorn Symphony Center for the first of two concerts featuring jazz chanteuse and pianist Diana Krall, her quartet and around 30 musicians from the Nashville Symphony.

Good to know, but honestly? Had there been an intermission, most would probably have stayed in their seats, captive to the spell that Krall cast.

In the 24 years since releasing her debut album, the Canadian-born artist has earned recognition as one of the great song stylists of our time. Much of her program draws from the well of American popular tunes — the same source that inspired interpreters from Frank Sinatra and Ella Fitzgerald up to Jamie Cullum, Madeline Peyroux and the Michaels, Bublé and Feinsten.

Even in this elite company, Krall is untouchable in one special area. During her Schermerhorn program, which indeed clocked in after one encore at an hour and a half, she swung infectiously through “Just You, Just Me” and Peggy Lee’s “I Don’t Know Enough About You,” both tunes played at a fleet tempo that posed no trouble to her band — guitarist Anthony Wilson, bassist Robert Hurst, drummer Kareem Riggins and Nashville’s own Stuart Duncan on fiddle.

Krall’s true milieu, though, is the ballad. Specifically, torch songs, whose intention is above all else is to … Well, there’s really no way to put it: They seduce. Or, rather, they invite those singers who know how to coax and caress a romantic tune to life.

Again and again throughout her performance, Krall proved her command of this repertoire. Singing mostly to arrangements written and conducted by Alan Broadbent, an outstanding jazz pianist himself and her piano teacher when she’d turned 19, she settled into “Let’s Fall In Love” as if it were a warm bath. Her voice here was inviting, just a little husky. Her come-hither phrasing, seasoned with a touch of playful humor that echoed in a snippet of “Mona Lisa” from her piano at the end, could not have captured the magic of this Harold Arlen tune more artfully.

The mood continued with the very next song as she sang the first two verses and the bridge to “Isn’t It Romantic,” backed only by Wilson’s guitar. This opening, almost more whispered than sung, led listeners into a more intimate space — a table in a bistro far from Lower Broadway, thankfully, where the Rogers & Hart song felt more like a conversation between a sophisticated couple at the beginning of an eventful evening.

Krall’s interpretive gift serves her well in material of more recent vintage. In fact, her treatment of Tom Waits’s “Temptation” was the pinnacle achievement of the night. Riggins set it up with a slow, sensual rhythm, played with soft mallets. The lyrics are unlike any crafted in the Thirties or Forties — a noir meditation that unfolds like smoke after last call in some woeful dive, circling back repeatedly to a mantra desolate in its resignation: “Temptation, temptation … I can’t resist.”

We’ve strayed far from that bistro conjured by “Isn’t It Romantic.” Yet Krall made this place come alive too. Her band takes us from there toward some interior place, one we might visit normally in dreams: Wilson unfolded his solo like a sculptor shaping clay, with long initial strokes on electric guitar that grew more dissonant and climaxed in a fury of fleet, boppish lines. Then Duncan stepped in, wailing through a wah-wah pedal, maintaining the momentum that Wilson had established, then easing back toward more of a jazz violin sound before setting his bow aside and unleashing a breakneck mandolin-like strum. An ovation erupted before he had finished — but still they persisted: Riggins commenced a solo that wisely avoided fireworks but instead began a hypnotic beat that softened, softened and then welcomed Krall back to bring it home.

Was this a flawless performance? Not quite. It would have edged closer to perfection if Krall had played one tune entirely on her own, just voice and piano, perhaps on her rendering of Joni Mitchell’s breathtaking song “Amelia.” Also, as awe-inspiring as Duncan is, a saxophonist of comparable skill and sensitivity could have added depth and contrast to the string-dominated backdrops.

Then again, perfection can be dull. Mystery, adventure and, let’s face it, seduction are persuasive enough. Listen to Diana Krall and you know it’s true.

For ticket information on the February 14 performance by Diana Krall & the Nashville Symphony, please visit www.nashvillesymphony.org.

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