LIVE REVIEW: Diana Krall ‘Quiet Nights’ Tour @ The Royal Albert Hall ft. Yolanda Brown

Quiet Nights - Diana Krall

If I was to have made a list a short while ago of all the things I was least likely to do, seeing Diana Krall live would have been on there somewhere.  It’s not that I hated the artistry of Mrs Elvis Costello in its entirety or that I didn’t appreciate her ability as a pianist or her particular style of re-arranging Jazz standards.  It’s just that I found her voice underwhelming and, well, irredeemably dull.  Dazzling vocal aesthetic is not necessarily a pre-requisite to my inclination towards an artiste (Nina Simone’s voice could hardly be described as pretty but it was hypnotic and she also happened to be one of the best musical interpreters to be immortalised on wax).  I just failed to connect with Ms Krall’s output and no matter how much her legions of fans would have me think otherwise, I’ve always thought she was a bit overrated.  Distinctive yes, but not in an exciting way.

So imagine my trepidation when earlier this year a family friend bought my mum and I tickets to see Diana as she kicked off the London leg of the promotional tour for ‘Quiet Nights’, her latest album at the Royal Albert Hall, last night?  I couldn’t really turn them down.  They were bought as a ‘thank you’ by said friend for the support we’d shown her through a difficult time as well as an early birthday present to herself and a chance to enjoy a night out with the girls.  I kept my reservations about Ms Krall to myself and graciously accepted the kind gesture.

Yolanda Brown 2

The show started promptly with opening act, MOBO award winning-saxophonist Yolanda Brown.  I was so glad to finally get a chance to hear the acclaimed Miss Brown play in the flesh and she did not disappoint.  I was pleasantly surprised to hear her perform mostly original material having always assumed she was a smooth jazz covers artist.  The young saxophonist mixes elegant cool with soulful improvisation leaving me in no doubt why she is one of the most sought after instrumentalists in the UK right now.  Although the vastness of the RAH lacks the intimacy needed to best appreciate smaller jazz outfits such as Miss Brown and her band this in no way detracts from her obvious talent and she did a fine job of warming the crowd for the main act.  After Yolanda finished her set with a slow, sultry, funked-up rendition of Gershwin’s ‘Summertime’ we had to wait another half an hour whilst technicians prepared the stage for Miss Krall.  At close to 9 O’clock the lady herself breezed in unassumingly and played for the best part of two hours.

Now, it would take Miss Krall to do some spectacular vocal feat for me to change my view on her chops and as to be expected, that didn’t occur.  I will admit however that hearing the chanteuse live, I could better understand why the low, gravelly quality to her voice might appeal to some.  Prior to the night, I always thought that if she were some unknown playing to a lounge full of chatty punters, there wouldn’t be enough to draw your attention away from the din to her voice.  Yet with a little bit of re-verb effect on her mic, Diana’s vocals got that bit more interesting, even if I couldn’t always hear her over her band.

The real revelation for me was just how gifted a pianist Ms Krall is.  I wasn’t previously aware of the full extent of her fluidity and proficiency as a player.  Together with her trio of musicians (Anthony Wilson on guitar, Robert Hurst on double bass and Kareem Wiggins on drums) Diana recreated beautifully a choice selection of the American songbook as well as other jazz, pop and folk classics.  She infused Elton John’s ‘Benny And The Jets’ into the mighty Nat King Cole’s Frim Fram Sauce’ before moving on to Astrud Gilberto’s ‘Summer Samba (So Nice)’, Cole Porter’s Let’s Fall In Love’, Joni Mitchell’s ‘A Case of You’, King-Cole’s ‘Pick Yourself Up’ and a good deal more. I remember quizzing a friend about why he admired Diana’s artistry so much.  One of the things he mentioned was her note selections and last night, I finally understood what he meant.  Krall’s voice doesn’t really stray beyond one octave but within those constraints, she can really make a song her own as demonstrated on Mitchell’s ‘A Case Of You’.  Perhaps not quite in the definitive way that some of her forbears have done, (Simone, Vaughn, Fitzgerald for example) but entertaining nonetheless. Even a non-fan such as myself could value how well Ms Krall and band tailored each arrangement around her breathy voice, showcased very well on her version of Burt Bacharach’s ‘Walk On By’.

The Canadian songstress also has a warm and natural way of interacting with her audience between tunes, regaling us with tales of domestic bliss, the joys of mothering her rambunctious toddler twins, partying in Brazil on hearing of Obama’s election success and chin-wagging with Mrs O at the White House.

I caught myself having a good time despite my initial apprehension and two hours evaporated like nothing.  This can only be attributed to the fact that Ms Krall is evidently an engaging performer.  Sure, there may be more talented female jazz vocalists out there who have somehow missed out on the kind of buzz that surrounds Krall.  Still, the lady really knows how to work with what she has.  And I suppose that’s all anyone can really ask from a live performance.

Diana Krall plays The Royal Albert Hall tonight and Friday 30th October. Follow the RAH link for more information and tickets

Review by Tolita