By Devon Wendell
Los Angeles. It was a night of sheer “crossover” bliss with Gregory Porter and Diana Krall with The L.A. Philharmonic at The Hollywood Bowl on Friday night.
Diana Krall took the Bowl stage with her current touring band (Anthony Wilson, guitar/arranger, Stuart Duncan, violin, Patrick Warren, keyboards, Dennis Crouch, bass and Karriem Riggins on drums) along with the Los Angeles Philharmonic.
It’s already well known that Krall is an amazing singer with a subdued and sultry cool contralto voice but what I noticed the most on Friday night was her incredible piano work which was in the style of Duke Ellington, in fact, I felt the presence of Ellington’s ghost throughout Krall’s entire performance. So few jazz- based artists today play piano in that delicately swinging, stride style of Duke Ellington. Krall is a master at it and it accompanies her breathy and dynamic vocal phrasing wonderfully.
I thought of Duke from the very start of Krall’s set which opened with Johnny Mercer’s “Day In, Day Out”, which Ellington performed frequently throughout his career. It wasn’t just Krall’s piano playing that conjured up Ellington’s spirit; Stuart Duncan’s violin style was very reminiscent of Ray Nance’s violin work in Ellington’s band during the 1930s, especially on the more jazz oriented standards.
The Los Angeles Philharmonic’s string and brass section fit Krall’s choice of material like a glove. Krall’s set was extremely diverse; from George Gershwin’s “Do It Again”, and Harold Arlen’s classic “Let’s Fall In Love” to Antonio Carlos Jobim’s “Quiet Nights”, and Bob Dylan’s “Wallflower” (the title track to Krall’s latest album). Anthony Wilson’s virtuosic guitar playing was magnificent throughout. He’s easily one of the finest guitarists I’ve heard in a long time.Wilson also arranged Krall’s rendition of Cole Porter’s “From This Moment On” which swung hard. Anthony Wilson is the son of the late great Gerald Wilson and his skill and devotion to jazz is proof that he’s following in his father’s footsteps.
Ellington’s influence on Krall could even be heard on her more pop/rock flavored material from her Wallflower album such as Leon Russell’s “Superstar”, John Phillip’s “California Dreaming”, and Crowder House’s “Don’t Dream It’s Over.” Krall would often alternate between acoustic piano and a Wurlitzer.
Karrien Riggin’s versatile and melodic drumming swung beautifully with Dennis Crouch’s thoughtful and steady bass lines.
Krall’s take on Tom Waitts’ “Temptation” was sexy and funky but went on a little too long with some overindulgent solos by Krall and her band.
A highlight of the entire show was an intimate reading of Joni Mitchell’s “A Case Of You”. Krall has the uncanny ability to make you truly understand and feel the lyrics to any song she chooses to cover and this was certainly the case here. It felt as if she were addressing a dear friend with love and sincerity. It’s obvious that Krall loves, understands, and respects the material she sings, which is rare these days.
I’ve never heard such a meaningful version of Irving Berlin’s “Isn’t This A Lovely Day” in my life. It was like the sweetest lullaby imaginable.
After a delightful big band arrangement of Jesse Greer and Raymond Klages’ “Just You, Just Me” (with more of Krall’s Ellington-esque piano chops), Krall, her band, and The LA Phil returned for an encore of Nat King Cole’s “I’ll String Along With You.” Duncan played an electric violn. This was Krall’s most powerful vocal performance of the evening. I can’t think of a better cover to fit her laid back and refined style.
For the last 6 years, Gregory Porter has been captivating audiences all over the world with his distinct fusion of jazz, R&B, gospel, and pop. Porter’s sensitive soulful vocals and his poignant lyrics make him one of the greatest “crossover” jazz singers to surface in many years. His set at the Bowl on Friday night was magnificent. Porter and his band (Chip Crawford, piano/musical director, Emanuel Harrold, drums, Jahmal Nichols, bass, and Yosuke Sato on alto saxophone) kicked off their part of the evening’s program with a brief set of some of his most familiar material such as “Painted On Canvas”, “On My Way To Harlem”, and “No Love Dying”. The band was delicate and supportive. Sato’s alto sax work was brilliant and soaring. Porter’s stage presence was poised and charmingly engaging.
“Liquid Spirit” is pure gospel. Porter tried to get the mellow crown to engage in some call and response but it kind of fell flat. Porter joked; “It worked when I did it at The Newport Jazz Festival.”
The highlight of Porter’s set was “Wolf Cry”, which is a sweet and tender ballad. Crawford’s tasteful and thematic piano accompaniment added to the romantic atmosphere of the song’s lyrics. Porter’s vocal range and phrasing reminds me of a great tenor saxophone player. He’s the kind of singer that instrumentalists copy. Porter ended his set with a quick gospel reading of the Temptation’s “Poppa Was A Rolling Stone” and “Musical Genocide” which is Porter’s protesting response to much of the violent content churned out by the hip-hop industry.
Porter’s set was a reminder of the importance and influence of gospel music in pop, soul, and contemporary jazz. No one does it like Gregory Porter.
This was the perfect night at The Hollywood Bowl. Porter and Krall are both masters of the American song. Their dignified and original approach to “crossover” jazz was enjoyed by everyone present and I’m sure Duke was listening and was very proud.