The Playground

The Simply Music blog

This Dream of You – Diana Krall [Album Review]

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Think of the word “jazz” and chances are you’ll picture something like a smoky bar with a small group of guys hunched intensely over their instruments. Or perhaps a concert hall with an ensemble of tuxedo-clad men swinging through Tin Pan Alley standards. What you may notice is that your image is heavily weighted on the male side. Jazz, it would seem, is largely a man’s pursuit. The notable exception to this is vocalists. From jazz’s earliest days, women have dominated the singer’s role. If you ask a jazz lover to list their favourite vocalists they will reel off names like Bessie Smith, Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughan, Nina Simone and Dianne Reeves. You will probably struggle to get them to stop swooning over the endless parade of wonderful female singers.

If they were to limit their selections only to living jazz singers, there would still be plenty of choice, but without doubt Diana Krall would be high on their list. As a bonus, it seems that latter-day female jazz singers are often also adept at at least one instrument. In Krall’s case, that’s piano, which proves to be a perfect foil for her voice.

Even if you haven’t heard of her, chances are you’ve heard her. Her smooth, easy contralto has wafted through countless cocktail parties and hotel lobbies. But to keep her in the background is to unfairly neglect a masterful interpreter of the jazz canon.

I’d recommend her to anyone who claims an aversion to jazz. Rather than pushing boundaries and wallowing in self-indulgence, Krall is all about the song. She typically chooses material that many will be familiar with, but always imprints it with her unique signature and always respects the maxim that Melody is King (or Queen). Being jazz, of course the melody is always clay to be moulded into something unique, but Krall never strays so far as to lose us. Her subtle piano playing impeccably complements her smoky, whisper-quiet voice. The spare, spacious arrangements feature sweet strings, delicate guitar and subtle bass and drums. There’s not too much soloing, but when there is it’s brief, accessible and impeccably played by some of the finest sidemen (yes, they are all men) in the business.

On this album she also sometimes ventures beyond jazz, such as the Bob Dylan-penned title song which gets a heartfelt country treatment and features evocative playing by bluegrass violinist Stuart Duncan.

There are still not enough women in jazz but Krall carries the flag with great style.