|The Elvis Costello
Review of The Girl In The Other Room by Diana Krall
Diana Krall in the Other Room
Verve Music Group
The depth of feeling which lies behind the beautiful façade of Diana Krall's highly successful Verve releases has always been known to her most appreciative listeners. However, with her latest album, The Girl In The Other Room, Krall not only illustrates her understanding of the breadth of possibilities in the jazz idiom but also reveals her talent as a songwriter.
Indeed, the title song of the record is a Krall original. While some may be attracted to the lyrical portrait of a mysterious woman distracted by love (and note in passing that the words were co-written with Elvis Costello), the ear is drawn to the elegant and effortlessly swinging accompaniment of Krall's piano and that of her long-time partners in rhythm: Jeff Hamilton on drums and bassist, John Clayton.
For much of the album, the musical support comes from drummer Peter Erskine and bassist Christian McBride. The inventive and sympathetic guitar playing of Anthony Wilson is heard throughout a record that which also features drummer Terri Lynne Carrington and Neil Larson sitting in on Hammond B-3 for one cut.
The album is the first co-produced by Krall and her long-time producer Tommy LiPuma. Recorded at Capitol Studios, Hollywood and Avatar Recording, New York City, the sessions were engineered throughout 2003 by another long-term cohort, Al Schmitt.
Listeners used to Krall's intimate and seductive interpretations of standard ballads may be surprised at first by her present choice of composers. Take a listen to her take on Mose Allison's timely blues, "Stop This World" or the driving and joyfully carnal "Love Me Like a Man" (with its final chorus salute to Count Basie) and you will hear a singer, bandleader and piano player in her top form.
Krall's sensual approach to Tom Waits' "Temptation," with its extraordinary introduction by Christian McBride, is balanced by Krall's own exquisite preface to a most tender rendition of Elvis Costello's "Almost Blue." A beautifully reflective version of a relatively obscure standard, "I'm Pulling Through," recalls the style of her teacher, Jimmy Rowles.
The spirit of Rowles and an apprenticeship of the jazz club experiences is inspiration for one of Krall’s new compositions, "I've Changed My Address," only as Krall reflects, revisiting some of these venues can be a shock: "Everything looks pretty much the same but the place is now a sports bar and there is pool table where there used to be a piano."
While so much of the music is new, the album itself recalls a vinyl disc of two sides. The bold and flowing solos from Krall and guitarist Anthony Wilson on Joni Mitchell's song of travel, "Black Crow," announce a series of original songs that speak of family and of love, but also of enduring the grievous loss of a parent. As Krall explained recently: "I went through a series of deep personal losses and changes. So...this is what I did instead of shutting the door and saying ‘I can't deal with it’".
So it is that the gospel changes of the hopeful "Narrow Daylight" give away to the sophisticated blues of "Abandoned Masquerade." It is this song that most clearly expresses the need (for now at least) for the singer to step out from behind the beautiful romantic illusions found in so many songs of the past. Once again, the music leaves the listener in no doubt that they are hearing the work of a jazz composer.
The gently defiant tone of "I'm Coming Through" marks another subtle shift of musical scene with wonderful playing from Anthony Wilson. The content of these last songs is undoubtedly the most specifically personal material yet recorded by Diana Krall.
The album closes with perhaps the most deeply felt of the self-composed titles. "Departure Bay" contains vivid and touching images of her hometown of Nanaimo on Vancouver Island but also a wrenching description of her family's first Christmas without her mother and a final verse that welcomes new love and hope for the future.
Musically composed by Krall alone, these songs mark a lyrical collaboration with her new husband, Elvis Costello. Explaining how they worked, Krall said: "I wrote the music and then Elvis and I talked about what we wanted to say. I told him stories and wrote pages and pages of reminiscences, descriptions and images, and he put them into tighter lyrical form. For "Departure Bay," I wrote down a list of things that I love about home, things I realized were different, even exotic, now that I've been away".
Songs often suggest and recall moments in our own lives and listeners must surely be aware that Diana Krall's previous recordings contained many personal but private meanings for the artist. On The Girl In The Other Room, what was once partly hidden has been brought beautifully into view.
BORN IN NANAIMO, BRITISH COLUMBIA (NOT FAR from Vancouver), Diana Krall grew up in the western part of Canada and began studying the piano when she was four years old. By the time she was 15, she was playing jazz in a local restaurant/bar. One person who encouraged her interest in music was her father, a stride pianist with a vast knowledge of such Twenties and Thirties keyboard masters as Fats Waller, James P. Johnson, and Earl Hines. "I think Dad had every recording Fats Waller ever made," she says, "and I tried to learn as many as I could."
Krall was still a teenager when she was awarded a scholarship to the prestigious Berklee College of Music in Boston. After two years in Boston, she moved to Los Angeles, where she met her first jazz heavyweights, including John Clayton, pianist/singer Jimmy Rowles, and Ray Brown, the legendary bassist who served as her musical mentor (and played on Only Trust Your Heart). Krall had lived in Los Angeles for three years when she moved to Toronto, and it was a Canadian label that gave her a chance to record for the first time. In 1993, the Montreal-based Justin Time Records released her debut album, Stepping Out. In 1994, she signed with GRP and recorded Only Trust Your Heart, which featured Brown on bass and Stanley Turrentine on tenor saxophone and marked the beginning of her association with Tommy LiPuma (who has worked with everyone from Barbra Streisand to George Benson).
Since then, LiPuma has produced all of Krall's subsequent albums for GRP, Impulse!, and Verve, including All for You: A Dedication to the Nat "King" Cole Trio (1995), Love Scenes (1997), When I Look In Your Eyes (1998), The Look of Love (2001), and Live in Paris (2003). "That was the first time I had produced that many albums in a row for any artist," he says. "Diana and I have such a good chemistry between us -- it makes it easy. When one of us makes a suggestion, the other listens in earnest. We have tremendous respect for one another."
Krall grew increasingly popular throughout the Nineties. Only Trust Your Heart, All for You, and Love Scenes all sold well, but the album that put her over the top commercially was When I Look in Your Eyes. In addition to spending 52 weeks in the #1 position on Billboard's jazz chart, When I Look in Your Eyes won GRAMMY®’s in two categories, Best Jazz Vocal Performance and Best Engineered Album, Non-Classical, and received a GRAMMY® nomination in the Album of the Year category-putting Krall in competition with Santana, the Backstreet Boys, the Dixie Chicks, and TLC.
Needless to say, it isn't every day that an acoustic-oriented jazz improviser finds herself competing with major rock, country, urban, and teen-pop stars for a GRAMMY® award. Nor is it every day that a jazz improviser becomes a major attraction at the Lilith Fair festival, founded by singer/songwriter Sarah McLachlan to spotlight female pop-rock and pop artists. But in 1998, Krall had no problem winning over a young, predominantly female audience more likely to be into Sheryl Crow or Alanis Morissette than Abbey Lincoln or Chris Connor.
When I Look in Your Eyes eventually went platinum in the United States (where it sold over one million units), double platinum in Canada, platinum in Portugal, and gold in France. It was a hard act to follow, but Krall's next album, The Look of Love, would also be an impressive seller. Released in September 2001, it entered the Billboard 200 at #9 and sold 95,000 copies in the U.S. alone in its first week.
"The thing about Diana is her musicianship," Al Schmitt said in an interview with the Los Angeles Times. "More than most singers, she knows what's right for her, and she knows how to make it happen musically."