Pianist and singer Diana Krall and her trio of first-rate jazz artists presented a nearly two-hour program of such variety Monday at The Smith Center that it would be virtually impossible to duplicate.
With a near-sellout audience in the 2,050-seat Reynolds Hall, Krall led off with a rollicking blues keyboard romp, Kansas City style. Each member of her band took turns improvising, and the next time it was Krall's turn she switched to Harlem stride. Each musician had plenty of time to develop his ideas fully; they weren't limited to swapping only four-bar phrases. The piece brought down the house, and Krall wasted no time in sharing the spotlight with her musicians and introducing them: virtuoso guitarist Anthony Wilson, bassist Robert Hurst and drummer Karriem Riggins.
The set continued with Antonio Carlos Jobim's "Summer Samba" ("So Nice"), one of two offerings from Krall's most recent album, "Quiet Nights." Guitarist Wilson offered an extensive and delicate introduction, a quiet and sensitive lead-in to one of the mainstays of bossa nova. The album's title song was presented later in the evening with Krall singing an intimate and warm setting of the poignant piece. She followed with "I've Grown Accustomed to His Face," her version a paean to sensual expression. The intimacy she established was marred, as it was several times, by untimely yells and piercing whistles from the audience.
Standards were spread throughout the program. "East of the Sun" gave Hurst's bass a chance to shine. He had several such moments, but this was a virtuoso performance. Krall's seductive sound caressed the words of Irving Berlin's "How Deep Is the Ocean" in an inventive re-harmonization showing some of her warmest moments. Berlin's "Cheek to Cheek" was taken at a blistering tempo, but the technically superior group made it sound nearly effortless - nearly. As was the case in most tunes, each musician was given opportunity for solo improvisation and each played with taste and dazzling technique. To the audience's delight they were brought back for two encores, the final of which, an instrumental, showed they may have saved the best for last.
Usually thought of as a singer, Krall was a piano major at the Berklee College of Music in Boston, a jazz mecca. Her later teacher and mentor, the great Jimmy Rowles, encouraged her to develop her singing skills, too. Fortunately, she followed his advice. While her recordings emphasize her vocals, in live performance her piano-playing talent may eclipse the vocals - but that's for her audience to decide.
Krall is like no other in the current jazz world; however, there are occasional flashbacks to possible influencers. At the keyboard one hears hints of Marian McPartland and Oscar Peterson, while her distinctive vocal styles reflect the mature Peggy Lee, Roberta Flack and Julie London. But Krall has molded her own distinctive sounds to each of the many styles she undertakes.