By Don Heckman
Los Angeles, CA. One of the great pleasures of reviewing music is the rare opportunity to observe the creative evolution of a gifted artist. It doesn’t happen often. But when it does, as it did at Diana Krall’s concert at the Greek Theatre Saturday night, it’s an experience to remember.
Diana’s Los Angeles concerts of the past few years have generally showcased her mastery of the classics in the Great American songbook, performed with backing ranging from the intimacy of her own quartets to the lush orchestral accompaniment of the Los Angeles Philharmonic. Each of those events displayed her growing creative maturity. Always a natural musical story teller, she brought a heightening level of interpretive magic to every song she touched, adding new perspectives to music long familiar as part of the soundtrack of American life.
On Saturday night at the Greek Theatre, however, she revealed an even more compelling desire to expand the potential of her art. She did so while still retaining her deep connections with many of the songs her dedicated audiences love to hear her sing and play. While also adding intriguing, early ’20s selections from her latest album, Glad Rag Doll.
And that was just one aspect of this memorable performance.
Start with the fact that virtually all the music was illuminated by huge video projections of vintage film clips, all selected by Krall. Among the many highlights in the non-stop images: Groucho Marx romancing Margaret Dumont; George Raft dancing elegantly with Carole Lombard; and dozens of others, embracing everything from classic cartoons to black and white masterpieces.
Diana has often referred to a Canadian childhood in which she was introduced by her parents to the music and films of the ’20s, `30s and ’40s. And her long program – delivered without a break, and with a four-song encore — honored that influence by her choices of music and film clips, while positioning one of her father’s old gramophones on the front of stage left, and including a segment in which she sang while playing an old upright piano.
Add to that a selection of repertoire that included such Songbook classics as “We Just Couldn’t say Goodbye,” “Let’s Face the Music and Dance,” “The Sunny Side of the Street,” “Just You, Just Me,” “Boulevard of Broken Dreams.” and more. While including tunes associated with Nat “King” Cole and Bing Crosby, and adding songs by Bob Dylan, Neil Young, The Band, and Tom Waits. All of it delivered by Krall with convincing understanding of each of the song’s musical stories.
Krall was backed in her artistically ambitious endeavors by a superb group – guitarist Aram Bajakian, bassist Dennis Crouch, ukulele player Stuart Duncan, drummer Karriem Riggins and keyboardist Patrick Warren. Well-tuned to the eclectic styles her program demanded – hard swinging jazz, simmering rock and intimate balladry – they were the perfect choice to support her musical goals.
But the most fascinating subtext of the evening was the emergence of Diana Krall as a mature, evolved performer whose growing artistry has become balanced by equally magnetic skills as a communicator and an entertainer. It’s a rare combination, and Krall now expresses those skills with a convincing believability that firmly places her in the rarified group of Olympian artists she honored in her mesmerizing evening of music and visuals.