Jazz fans who attend one of Diana Krall’s concerts can expect to hear songs about love liberally sampled from the Great American Songbook. Rarely do they expect words of advice.
During Krall’s Saturday night performance at Madison’s Overture Center for the Arts, just the second date on Krall’s brand new world tour, an enthusiastic crowd of more than 1,700 got a little bit of both.
• Krall noted early on that she performs the music of classic composers, 90 percent of whom she’s never met. She fears that they might appear in her dreams to point out the errors in her performance of their works.
“Of course, if you’re going to have a nightmare, you certainly want Cole Porter to be part of it,” she quipped to audience laughter.
• Later on, after tapping the water bottle, which she also liberally sampled throughout the evening, she started coughing.
“I think they replaced my water with gin, or my gin with water,” she noted, once the coughing subsided. “As my mother always said, ’Put on some lipstick. You’ll feel better.’”
And that was exactly what she did as she sat at the keyboard of Overture’s Steinway concert grand.
The humor was welcomed as just another part of the personal warmth that endeared her to the crowd.
In addition to the well-modulated, husky contralto with which caressed the lyrics of songs both familiar and not, Krall’s secret to her performance success is to surround herself with outstanding musicians and play as merely part of the ensemble. Everyone shines, which means the entire group delivers at higher-than-expected levels.
The tour’s musicians – Anthony Wilson on guitar, Stuart Duncan on violin, Robert Hurst on bass and Karriem Riggins on drums – delivered outstanding performances individually as well as in ensemble during the largely relaxed set. Everyone soloed repeatedly, seemingly more so than Krall herself, and none of the performances disappointed.
Traditional jazz vocal hits were plentiful, including “Isn’t It Romantic,” ”The Sunny Side of the Street,” “Night and Day,” “Blue Skies” and others.
Krall acknowledged her ongoing debt to Irving Berlin and expressed her admiration for singer/songwriter Peggy Lee, launching into a lively version of Lee’s “I Don’t Know Enough About You” in homage.
It was on some less familiar works that Krall and her bandmates really shined. Lengthy improvisation characterized Tom Waits’ “Temptation,” with Riggins’ inventive drum solos both leading and bridging the work. Wilson’s guitar and Duncan’s violin rapidly alternated leads and Hurst’s bass brought up a solid close to the performance.
Krall herself took center stage on Joni Mitchell’s “A Case of You,” performing the soulful love song against a projected backdrop of stars.
The band’s 90-minute set brought the audience to its feet, which led to a five- song encore.
“East of Sun, West of the Moon” gave Krall a chance to stretch her emotions a bit, accompanied by Hurst’s impressive bass solo. The song’s emotional context proved to be only a warm-up for an equally touching version of “How Deep is the Ocean,” another Berlin hit.
The encore list also included a raucous barrelhouse-style performance of The Band’s “Ophelia,” Krall perennial favorite “Wallflower” by Bob Dylan, and “Almost Blue,” penned by Krall’s husband, Elvis Costello, who also is touring.
“He should be taking the stage at the Greek Theatre in San Francisco right now,” Krall said near her set’s 10 p.m. close. “I miss him so.”
The comment seemed completely in line with the purpose of Krall’s performance.
“This whole evening is about love and making you feel good,” she said to the audience. “Or about feeling something.”
Krall and her group also performed June 4 at the Riverside Theatre in Milwaukee.