Quiet Nights – Diana Krall

I must have had a weak moment a few days ago, for I was wandering around a video/CD store in Bang Saen, Thailand, where I’m on staff at Burapha University’s western music department, and much to my surprise, among the Thai pop CDs, I spied Diana Krall’s new release, Quiet Nights.

Checking out the tunes, largely standards and bossa novas, with arrangements by Claus Ogerman, I put aside my inherent distaste for Krall (I had reviewed her live) and bought the CD. I guess I had the Sinatra/Jobim album with Ogerman’s arrangements in my head, a classic if there ever was one, and I must have hoped that Krall probably had improved with age and experience. Boy, was I wrong.

It took about 30 seconds into the first tune, the Rodgers and Hart classic Where or When, to realize that my long-held assessment of Krall was still correct – she hasn’t got a voice. Well, maybe she has one to talk with, but she certainly can’t sing. Perhaps she thinks that the muffled whisper she uses is sexy, and maybe it would be if there were some style and musicality, but there isn’t any on this CD. I think back many years ago to a singer called April Stevens and her recording of “Gimme a Little Kiss, Willya, Huh?” That was whispered, but that was really sexy because Stevens knew how to deliver.

Not only does Krall lack style, but there’s no timbre or quality to her sound, she has a one-volume delivery, and she hasn’t got enough range or breath control to sustain even the moderately high notes which are at the limit of her ability. In short, she doesn’t know how to support her voice with diaphragmatic breathing and control, something that every good swing/jazz/ballad singer knows. Add to that a wobbling vibrato, erratic unmusical phrasing because she runs out of breath, and you get the feeling that she must have been half asleep when she recorded this CD.

I skipped through the tracks – I couldn’t bear to listen to each one completely – dismal performances of great tunes like Too Marvelous for Words, I’ve Grown Accustomed to His (Her) Face, The Boy (Girl) From Ipanema, So Nice, Quiet Nights of Quiet Stars, and then the pathetic attempt at Guess I’ll Hang My Tears Out to Dry. Perhaps if she’d listened to Frank Sinatra’s stunning performance of that song on the classic album For Only the Lonely she might have passed. The Sinatra version is definitive – no one else should bother.

Krall is considered a jazz pianist, but beside Oscar Peterson, Oliver Jones, Kenny Barron and virtually every jazz pianist in Toronto alone she’s just passable. On this CD she does some one-finger improvs in the instrumental breaks, but the line “a tinkling piano in the next apartment” from the song These Foolish Things just about sums up Krall’s keyboard efforts here.

Claus Ogerman’s arrangements are certainly tasteful and musical, but he was obviously held down by Krall’s limited abilities, so the whole CD sounds pretty monotonous and boring from beginning to end.

Diana Krall is Canadian, and just how she managed to get such an inflated reputation is beyond me, and even more mysterious is why such a great jazz label like Verve would even bother. There are Canadian female standard/jazz/ballad singers who could sing Krall off the stage – Heather Bambrick, Emily-Claire Barlow, Holly Cole and Carol Welsman are but a few, and Welsman is an even better jazz pianist than Krall.

If you like bossa nova sung by a lady try Bossa Nova Stories by Eliane Elias, or a CD by Bebel Gilberto. If I could get my money back for Krall’s Quiet Nights I would. Don’t waste yours.

Verve 179 811-0