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Reviewers: Tony Augarde [Editor], Steve Arloff, Don Mather, Glyn Pursglove, Sam Webster, Jonathan Woolf



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DIANA KRALL

Quiet Nights

Verve 0602527049359

[56:02]

 

 

  1. Where Or When [4:09}
  2. Too Marvelous For Words [4:03}
  3. I've Grown Accustomed To Your Face [4:46]
  4. The Boy From Ipanema [4:52]
  5. Walk On By [5:01]
  6. You're My Thrill [5:47]
  7. Este Seu Olhar [2:45]
  8. So Nice [3:50]
  9. Quiet Nights [4:45]
  10. Guess I'll Hang My Tears Out To Dry [5:47]
    Bonus tracks:
  11. How Can You Mend A Broken Heart? [4:28]
  12. Every Time We Say Goodbye [4:49]


Diana Krall (vocals, piano); Anthony Wilson (guitar); John Clayton (bass); Jeff Hamilton (drums); Paulinho Da Costa (percussion); orchestra arranged and conducted by Claus Ogerman
Recorded: Capitol Studios Hollywood CA (no dates given)

 

This album surprised and disappointed me. In the past I have really enjoyed Diana Krall's unique and intelligent take on the tracks she records. She is gifted with a stylish minimalist piano technique added to an instantly recognisable vocal timbre. All of which should guarantee any album by her to be worthy of careful and considered attention. But this is so very very dull. On every level I was by turns irritated, bored and annoyed - it is such a waste of many talents. Clearly this is pitched at being a very commercial disc. A visit to my local HMV store proved the point - the product placement and price point chosen for this CD aims for mass-market penetration. Not that Krall is the first to pitch for this 'jazz-lite' middle of the road easy-listening market. The problem is that other artists have produced far better albums. Going back years I'm thinking of the marvellous collaboration Nat King Cole Sings/George Shearing plays (Capitol from 1961) - the piano and strings connection being an obvious stylistic link - or more recently (but still more than twenty years back) the three albums Linda Ronstadt recorded with the brilliant Nelson Riddle - For Sentimental Reasons / Lush Life / What's new (Asylum 960 474-2 / 960 387-2 / 960260-2) - which were some of his very last studio albums. Where both those artistic collaborations succeeded was in taking standards and adding a musical treatment that was unexpected yet hugely effective in throwing unexpected light on familiar material. I'm thinking here of Riddle's take on Round Midnight from the Sentimental Reasons album. He produced a poignant searching arrangement that perfectly suits Ronstadt's country/pop vocal style and results in a song that is an achingly beautiful musing on loss and loneliness. Likewise, Shearing and Cole just ooze cool. Shearing is the master of the apt half dozen note piano phrase - their famous collaboration on the above album's Let there be love shows how this idiom can be breathtakingly sophisticated and populist at the same time.

Not that you would know this from the liner notes - because there are none - Krall on the Verve website describes this album so; "It's not coy. It's not 'peel me a grape, little girl' stuff. I feel this album's very womanly - like you're lying next to your lover in bed whispering this in their ear. It's a sensual, downright erotic record and it's intended to be that way." In so much that this is a very accurate description of the chosen vocal style - even more breathy and intimate than normal I would have to agree. But I DO find this to be unremittingly coy and affected - it's pillow talk as music. Some might find this sensual and even erotic it just sends me to sleep. I've not been able to sit through this album in its entirety at one sitting yet. It is a beige watching-paint-dry kind of disc. The sort of CD that is put on a player for an intimate soiree when actually its sole function is to be aural wallpaper - dinner party music not designed to be listened to. Another thing gleaned from the website is the Brazilian influence on the disc, the majority of tracks being given a bosa nova feel by 'veteran arranger' Claus Ogerman. This is the bosa nova of a Hammond organ's rhythm pre-sets back in the 1970's. The publicists on the website twitter excitedly about the way the disc "draws much of its musical spirit from the land that puts the 'carnal' into its annual Carnaval". From my perspective she's put the valium back into CarniVAL instead! So middle of the road you expect the disc to come with a free line painting kit. While I'm having a good fulminate - why are tracks 11 and 12 termed 'bonus' tracks. Are there copies of the CD out there which are missing them? To underline our great good fortune in having them included the under-worked liner notes do not list them at all and the CD cover grants them a plain type-face as opposed to the 60's retro type that the 'main' tracks are granted. Coming back to the arrangements for a moment - there is luxury scoring here a-plenty. Twenty nine violinists are listed - although since two are down as concertmasters I can't be sure that this number of players perform on every track. Add to that twenty four further strings plus four alto/bass flutes and four French horns and you can get an idea of the plush rich textures opted for. Again the website relates that the arrangements were recorded after the front-line elements had been laid down. This in part explains why the orchestral lines do sit so far behind the other instrumentalists. By definition they would not be able to get in the way of the pre-existing material and neither could the front-line parts feed off the backing tracks.

So to the chosen songs. All are standards and good ones at that worthy of regular performance and indeed reinvention. But the key there is the word reinvention - to my mind to go down such familiar musical paths you have to have something new to say. Not once in one of these songs did I stop and think, "now there's a thought". Krall's pillow-talk style is the very essence of un-dramatic. So when she chooses a show song to sing any possible hint of the theatrical or story-telling is eliminated. Take I've Grown Accustomed to His[?]Face. If you needed proof of the genius of Lerner and Loewe in a single song this is it. The final song in My Fair Lady it is sung by the emotionally crippled Henry Higgins who cannot admit even to himself that he could actually love another person. The extraordinary brilliance of this song is the encapsulation of this character's journey from dismissal - he enters the scene swearing "damm, damm, damm" - to final recognition of the fact that Eliza is now central to his life and yet he has probably just lost her. It is one of the great story-telling-through-song sequences in musical theatre. Here we get a gender-changing four and three quarter minute smooch - but at least it does not suffer from the bosa-nova-button treatment.

Apparently this version of The boy from Ipanema has been a hit. I know that changing the gender of this lyric is far more common and apologies if I am alone in this but again I find the gender-bending in the song down right odd. It makes the lyric "when HE walks its like a summer that swings so cool and sways so gentle" interesting - clearly a boy wholly at ease with his feminine side. Perhaps soon we will be treated to the uber-PC version The non-gender specific person from Ipanema - I count the days although preferably without the veteran arranger Ogerman's bosa-nova veneer. Walk On By is the other track to be singled out on the cover yet to my ear this is no different from the companion songs. A wash of mellow minor key string chords over a gentle latin rhythm with all of the pain and emotion of the original diluted and sluiced away. Quite what makes the collaborators here quite so full of self congratulatory praise; "And then we listened to those French horns playing the Burt Bacharach melody? We all had a meltdown. There's a lot of space with just the orchestra playing. It's reminiscent of Ravel's Bolero" - eludes me. I do not have a clue what they are talking about - clearly a cross-cultural referencing that I am too ignorant to appreciate.

The engineering of the album is as proficient as one might expect - personally I find the strings to be mixed too far back relative to Krall and her band who are beautifully recorded but very upfront on the sound stage. Why use an orchestra of some 60 players and then mix them so far back they sound like 20? Likewise with the 4 alto/bass flutes. This could provide a fantastic tonal colour. Despite listening closely several times I cannot hear where they are used to play a distinct chord sequence. It must be there but I managed to miss it unless the very end of Ev'ry time we say goodbye counts where the flutes fight against a suddenly upfront and rather unappealing solo string section - the chords slump dispiritedly in an harmonic meander that closes the album. Listening to the first of the bonus tracks How can you mend a broken heart it bore in on me that Krall's approach works far better in the absence of the orchestral accompaniments. Perhaps the easy swing of the number suits better too but certainly the feel of the song is less kitsch - that is until the fateful moment at 2:15 when those enervating string sustains lumber back into view.

So an album bound for almost certain financial success but one to which I know I will never return. Diana Krall will make far better and more challenging discs in the future perhaps sustained by the sales of this disc and I will look forward to hearing them. By one of those odd quirks of fate as this album finished my player jumped unbidden onto Elana James' - of The Hotclub of Cowtown fame - solo album which in its first twenty seconds crackles with all the energy and verve the present album lacks.

Strictly for the besotted.

Nick Barnard 

 

See additional review by Tony Augarde



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