With a little help from the large crowd and the gorgeous setting of the Santa Barbara Bowl, Diana Krall accomplished the ultimate goal of many artists by making life beautiful, at least for an hour or two last Sunday night. Krall set the self-effacing tone of her remarks early, commenting almost as soon as she came onstage in her floor-length orange-and-yellow dress, “It doubles as a nightie. I’ll be wearing it back on the bus when I put the kids to sleep.” This charismatic star, singer, and pianist may sell as many tickets as any jazz performer in the world, but she wants her audience to know that she’s also a recent mom of twin boys (they’re two) and a doting wife (she’s married to Elvis Costello).
Yet what sophisticated, romantic music this Canadian makes. Her latest album, Quiet Nights, is full of the sounds of Brazil, and on Sunday, Krall and her quartet-guitarist Anthony Wilson, bassist Robert Hurst, and drummer Jeff Hamilton-re-created the marvelous arrangements with great delicacy. Their restraint, like the collected cool of opener Nate Birkey, just fed the audience’s appetite for close listening. When Krall soloed, every nuance of her formidable piano technique was clear. During the song “Quiet Nights,” an English-language version of the bossa nova classic “Corcovado,” Krall struck what must have been the softest notes played at the Bowl this season, and they were also among the best.
Great jazz singers know how to find something new in a familiar tune. For Krall, Irving Berlin’s “Cheek to Cheek” suggested an up-tempo, be-bop approach, in which she abandoned her Julie London-like poise for a taste of Betty Carter’s fire. On the inevitable “The Girl from Ipanema,” Krall’s piano opened up the verses and let the band’s warm swing shine through.
Part of the appeal of this intimate party was the great feeling of listening to jazz outside. When a helicopter flew across the night sky during Krall’s version of “Don’t Fence Me In,” the reminder of the busy world outside only made the cozy scene within the Bowl seem that much more special.