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Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Diana Krall @ The Riverside Theater

July 16, 2012

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The friend who accompanied me to Diana Krall's show Monday night had been enjoying her music for a while, but he had never known her to be a pianist as well as a singer. As Krall pumped and clacked away in the black stiletto heels she sported under the baby grand she tickled on the Riverside Theater's stage, she verified with my guest her place as an estimable traditional jazz keyboardist as well as a favorite vocalist with what she called her "Scotch-infused," smoky contralto rife with fanciful wistfulness, emotional self-restraint and diffused romantic longing.

The few breaks in her two-hour, 16-song set to a nearly full house allowed Krall to dispel whatever mystique her material may invoke with anecdotes about the domesticity she shares with husband and fellow musician Elvis Costello. Telling of how her other half was preparing a salmon supper for their twin boys in her absence, and how they prefer dad's music to mom's, made the space between Krall and her audience that much more intimate. Her admission of a snafu mid-tune early on in her set made for a chuckle of amused sympathy from her listeners.

But she was as much about exceeding expectations musically as she was about limiting her image as a star. Whereas many of her albums' tracks stay comfortably under the five-minute mark, all the better to hold the attention of casual listeners who might not usually be attracted to singers/pianists, here she stretched out considerably into rounds of solos split among herself and a virtuosic trio of drummer, upright bassist and guitarist. The last of those three, Anthony Wilson, has accompanied Krall extensively on her studio work and here was given an extended, peacefully soulful solo spotlight that prefaced a Carlos Antonio Jobim number. Her accomplice on the low end showed ingenuity in his implementation of a bow on his bass for one number and some interplay involving diminished loudness between himself and the percussionist that inspired the crowd into a couple minutes of rhythmic clapping.

Though a generous bandleader, Krall remained in control. She brought her band to the show's apex late into their set as she drove them from an energetically playful reading of Irving Berlin's "Cheek to Cheek" to a shockingly heavy take on The Beatles' "Come Together."

Krall dipped with some frequency into the repertoires of Berlin and longtime inspiration Nat "King" Cole, in addition to the aforementioned Jobim song and her take on a Tom Waits piece. In terms of her own catalog, she harkened back to one of her earliest albums with her rendition of the Cole hit "The Frim-Fram Sauce." That selection emphasized the evening's recurrent food theme, too. Early on she dedicated one song to the piece of chocolate cake she had for dessert that night, adding that she would be tempted to play Milwaukee merely for the opportunity to eat in the city.

Even with a start time considerably later than that listed on the tickets, Krall kept her crowd enthralled with coolly passionate charm. And my friend got to see that there's more to admire about her than a voice that has lifted her beyond the inner circle of jazz aficionados.

Photo by Erik Ljung