Don’t get me wrong: I have tremendous respect for Diana Krall. She is the J.K. Rowling of jazz, a pied piper able to charm the masses without compromising her impeccably high standards. Still, even the most ardent fan must admit that Krall has, of late, been teetering on the precipice of toxic overexposure. Through no fault of her own (apart from the immense marketability of her talents), she’s become the darling of MOR stations and shopping-mall music programmers from coast to coast. One minute she’s hawking Buicks, the next she’s guesting on some high-profile TV hit, all the while serving as a one-woman cheering section for fellow artists, lending her consumer-friendly appeal to albums by everybody from Tony Bennett to Natalie Cole. Which is precisely why Live in Paris, recorded early last winter at the Olympia, is such a breath of fresh air.
I’m guessing that producer Tommy LiPuma, sage pulse-taker that he is, recognized it was high time for Krall to get back to basics. If so, 10 points for Tommy. Apart from the presence, on two of the album’s 11 tracks, of the syrupy but subdued Orchestre Symphonique Europeen, Live in Paris features the British Columbia beauty stripped bare, passion fully exposed, intensity cranked to 11. Raw, unplugged, pure. Krall 101.
Working in gorgeously spare surroundings (a welcome respite from the string-heavy arrangements that saturated both When I Look in Your Eyes and The Look of Love) Krall is no longer the show pony, the long-maned thoroughbred expected to scamper through her crowd-pleasing paces. Instead, like Carmen McRae, Nat “King” Cole and Shirley Horn before her, Krall’s transported to significantly greater heights when performing live, aloft in a coolly satisfying place that allows her the freedom to be looser, more inventive and, ultimately, more genuinely joyful.
As vocalist and pianist—and, for the record, Krall demonstrates several fine ways to treat the Olympia’s Steinway—she’s one with her richly minimalist environment, cozily simpatico with such well-chosen confreres as guitarist Anthony Wilson, drummer Jeff Hamilton and bass player John Clayton. Despite her inherent shyness (painfully evident on the DVD version of Live in Paris, released several months earlier), it’s obvious watching (or listening to) Krall that she possesses the same sense of deep self-satisfaction that underscored the magic of the mature Rosie Clooney and has long defined the razor sharpness of Blossom Dearie. The songs, variously drawn from Krall’s four previous albums, represent predictably safe choices. But don’t confuse safe with dull. Once you’ve experienced the shimmering superiority of “Maybe You’ll Be There,” “Devil May Care,” “East of the Sun,” “‘S Wonderful” and a half dozen others, you’ll be tempted to toss their comparatively pedestrian predecessors in the bin. (I for one, if forced to choose, would willingly trade all six of her studio outings for a single copy of Live in Paris.)
To seal the deal, Krall adds a bracing, if sober, “Fly Me to the Moon” before closing her hour’s worth of concert material with an exquisite solo cover of Joni Mitchell’s “A Case of You.” Dense and darkly delicious, it wallows luxuriously in delusional romantic contentment, rivaling the richness of Mitchell’s original. Tacked onto the end of the album is a studio treatment of Billy Joel’s “Just the Way You Are,” which, as any true Dianahead knows, previously appeared on the U.K. special edition of The Look of Love. It’s a serviceable rendition that, if nothing else, captures the cozy spirit of Joel’s piano-man past.
By the by, diehard aficionados might want to seek out the Canadian pressing of Live in Paris. As a special treat for her northern countrymen, Krall includes the self-penned “Charmed Life.” Short and sweet, it’s clearly intended as a humble ode to the escalating professional luck she’s enjoyed throughout the past decade. Ironically, it comes attached to the album that finally proves how little luck has had to do with it.