Quiet Nights – Diana Krall/Verve

by admin on May 14, 2009 · 32 comments

in Jazz Recordings

by Harry Currie

Verve 179 811-0

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.

{ 32 comments… read them below or add one }

admin 05.14.09 at 3:24 pm

Great review, Harry. I, too, am not a fan. I admire her musicianship a little more than you, but the ’sultry’ voice used on Quiet Nights is so misplaced!

And, you’re right about Carol Welsman. So much better.

I’d like to read some letters from fans and why they like Krall so much. Have at it!

Cheers, a

marvin fox 05.14.09 at 8:00 pm

I disagree Krall is a fine jazz pianist and maybe you should have your ears cleaned and listen to her other cd’s again.Her vocal range is very extreme and so is her high frequencies in alot of songs I have listened to.

Roger Kershaw 05.14.09 at 8:04 pm

A good and brutally candid review. Wouldn’t advise any trips to Nanaimo soon!

While I enjoy Krall more than the reviewer, I agree about Welsman. A mentor of mine was smart enough to hire her for a major event where she wowed the crowd. I have spent many evenings listening to her great voice, and admiring her musicianship. My copy of Best of Eliane Elias on Denon is also well-worn.

admin 05.14.09 at 9:13 pm

I’ve suggested that to Harry, too, Marvin, especially when he criticizes the flute section when conducting us :)

Trips to Nanaimo! LOL

Welcome, Roger.

Andy Fawcett 05.15.09 at 5:52 am

I wonder if some of your comments aren’t just a little harsh, Harry - but I’m glad you made them, as the reverence in which DK is held by so many audiophiles is inexplicable to me (though the quality of the recordings is wonderful, admittedly). Having had the misfortune to hear 2006’s appalling “From This Moment On”, I’ll be taking your word on the musical merits of this latest offering!

Martin Appel 05.15.09 at 7:35 am

Let me join in. I loved her first few cd’s before she went NOVA and the production/marketing hype people took over. Her efforts had been more honest and straight forward. After that you could throw away the rest of the cd’s.

Harry Currie 05.16.09 at 3:50 am

If I had my ears candled, Anthony, I’d hear even more tuning problems and strange notes! :)

admin 05.16.09 at 6:46 am

Just wait ’till I play your Farnon arrangement! ;)

Neil 05.16.09 at 8:39 pm

I happen to be a Krall fan and have enjoyed all of her albums so far. Some of them I have definitely liked more than others, but all have been worth owning. With that out of the way, I find Quiet Nights to be a total disaster. I agree that it sounds like she must have been half asleep. Perhaps she had no interest in doing this album, but she just pumped it out anyways. There’s no feeling to her vocals whatsoever and it almost sounds like she was sick. Here’s hoping that her next one is better. The next one though I’ll definitely preview before buying.

admin 05.16.09 at 9:52 pm

Thanks for your comment, Neil. And welcome.

Harry Currie 05.16.09 at 10:24 pm

That’s if you can handle it, A! :)

bill woods 05.26.09 at 1:16 pm

I’ve never really been a fan of DK’s vocals. I do however like some of the instrumental arrangements like ‘42nd Street’ and ‘Bigfoot’. It’s nothing that blows my socks off, but it is well produced and generally easy on the ears. Along with that ‘inflated reputation’ has come some respectable clout with regards to hiring supporting musicians, and her rhythm section is consistantly precise and polished. I should admit that I have an aversion towards vocals in general, not just Diana Krall’s. I gather from the review that this new effort is loaded with vocals, and based on that I’ll stear clear and just wait until she offers some new instrumental works that I can selectively rip and add to my music server.

admin 05.26.09 at 10:38 pm

Hi Bill. Welcome.
You are spot on about the musicians. Her associated musicians are wonderful as are her engineers and producers.

Maybe I’ll share some inside stories if there is some interest ;)

Cheers, a

Andy Fawcett 05.27.09 at 6:30 pm

If there’s interest?! Do we have to club together and buy you a shovel … c’mon, dish that dirt!! ;-)

admin 05.27.09 at 11:27 pm

LOL

We dished a lot at the Audiophilia dinner, tonight. Where were you? :)

Andy Fawcett 05.28.09 at 9:53 am

Yes, sorry about that. I was just on my way there when a local supermodels’ convention called, urgently requiring someone to monitor the temperature in the hot tubs. I refused at first, obviously, but the thought of disappointing all of those ladies, plus I’d already printed up the “No clothing allowed in the Hot Tubs” signs ….. anyway, count me a definite for next year. :-D

admin 05.30.09 at 7:29 am

LOL!

You missed a fantastic evening. Marty’s system sounds wonderful.

Cheers, a

L'wood 06.10.09 at 9:59 pm

Glory hallalulah! Somebody else that wonders what all the fuss is about….why would this woman pick ‘these songs’ that have been sung by so many other Female Artists, BETTER? Is she ‘hip’, not quite Smooth Jazz so it’s cool? Man, I just don’t get it … there are talented folks that could use a pitance of her payday and can’t get arrested.

admin 06.14.09 at 7:44 pm

Welcome, L’wood. Agreed, especially the last sentence.

Martin 07.11.09 at 11:42 pm

Diane is not a high performance Jazz artist but her sound tends to grow on you. Besides, she is very pretty :)

You can’t help but wonder if there is someone less gorgeous out there with much more talent that has never been given a chance to be marketed?

What would happen if they never put her picture on her covers?

In any case, I enjoy her music as I find it soothing…

martin

David 10.06.09 at 6:26 pm

Many years ago I had the pleasure of seeing Krall and her trio, which included the great Russell Malone, at an intimate jazz club. The setting was perfect. The choice of material, mostly standards, contributed to a memorable evening. That being said, I agree with the critical comments above. Humbly, I would like to suggest a couple of female jazz singers I find engaging and you might also.
Stacey Kent - tasteful, subtle, beautiful. Check out CD “The Boy Next Door”
Connie Evingson - jazzy, inventive. Check out CD “Let It Be Jazz”
There is much to say about these accomplished artists and more. And yes, we actually have an embarrassment of riches when it comes to contemporary singers as has been pointed out by others above. At the risk of suggesting too much. One cannot go wrong with:
Irene Kral (yes Kral) accompanied by Alan Broadbent on piano. Try the CD “Where is Love”

admin 10.06.09 at 7:40 pm

Thanks for the suggestions, David.

Cheers, a

Felix Tossan 11.10.09 at 9:00 pm

I stopped buying DK albums after The Girl In The Other Room. Because that album reached the lower limit of my taste and technical tolerance of her jazz. Her previous works (such as Look Of Love, When I Look In Your Eyes) are much better and I still enjoy them to this date.
Something basic has changed in the past 4-5 years or so, after her collaborators guitarist Malone and bassist Clayton left. New guitarist Wilson is nowhere as good as Malone, and just seem to be out of the picture in DK arrangements. Most disappointing of all is DK herself - she stopped being a jazz singer and pianist of caliber. I recommend:
1. She needs to spend less time on tours and more time to produce exquisite jazz compositions and arrangements. I mean real jazz, not orchestra-dominated elevator music to induce sleep.
2. She needs to build a new team of musical collaborators. Especially a guitarist who can actually add to her work as Malone has done such a fine job. She might consider add an occasional wind instrument in her arrangements.
3. She can benefit from some training on singing, to fix some of the complaints and to produce a fresh exciting voice such as the one in her early work.
4. She can also benefit from some piano touch up from jazz masters on more sophisticated techniques. He left hand, the harmony side, is particularly weak. As jazz vocalist, the ability to play sophisticated jazz harmony is an essential element that has been sort-of missing in the past few years.

DK should realize that her beauty, still most admirable, is no longer sufficient to make up for the reduced musical and technical competence.

A decade ago at the height of DK career, I consider Carol Welsman one league below. Today, I consider Welsman one league above DK. Welsman has grown big time - voice, superior jazz piano, excellent compositions, and sophisticated arrangements. DK needs to re-invent herself.

admin 11.10.09 at 9:03 pm

Thanks, Felix. Welcome.

taariq hassan 12.09.09 at 6:40 am

I Like Krall as a pianist but she shouldn’t sing. She should stick to small jazz groups , play piano and swing.
This Cd, QUIET NIGHTS, like many of her studio records is pure drivel and perfect for lifts /Elevators . It is so bland it is offensive. Nothing happens.
The business have done to her what they did to George Benson and Nat King Cole: made them sing bland crap , NOT blaze away on their instruments because the money is in waiting room music not raw jazz.

admin 12.09.09 at 7:40 am

Thanks Tariq, and welcome.

What do you think of her earlier efforts? I think the early stuff is quite musical and incredibly well recorded.

As for QN, definitely agree with your assessment.

Cheers, a

JMarra 03.11.10 at 1:20 pm

I just listened to Isn’t This A Lovely Day and thought I would lose tooth enamel, it was SO awful. Forced phrasing that imitates swing, no sustain, no sweetness, completely lame. TERRIBLE singer. But then, I cut my teeth on Ella Fitzgerald, so it’s a pretty steep mountain to climb. But Krall makes my skin crawl.

So many stupid people get all woozy over Krall (and Norah Jones, but at least she’s got SOME chops) that it’s nice to find that I’m not alone in my amazed dismay at this overly popular dim bulb.

hear&now 08.06.10 at 4:28 pm

In my experience, if you listen carefully to DK singing you will notice she never sings in tune, she is close, but she never actually hits the right note.
Seems an amazing claim, but just listen and you will see.
I saw DK perform live, and 3 times during the performance the riff was abruptly ended by her because she lost the beat…which is another thing that annnoys me when I listen to her, she is so often out of rhythm.

Nikole 04.18.11 at 7:23 pm

This is an old conversation. You are all audiophiles, right? I’m not a member, just a listener in Toronto who heard some songs on the radio a few times that have put me to sleep! After the fact, I learned it was Diana Krall. Now I hear that Tony Bennett is doing a recording with DK. He has such a laid back delivery that I worry about the outcome — snores? I have to add that I don’t agree with you about Holly Cole — off key with no good points to offset that — doesn’t know it when she’s off key.

admin 04.19.11 at 7:35 am

Hi Nikole:

Welcome. Yes, we are audiophiles :) Though, some balk at that title. We all agree that we love music.

Please keep reading and commenting.

Cheers, a

Music Buff 10.09.12 at 1:38 am

Finally, someone else who is scratching their head and wondering how she became so popular. She sounds like a very weak Phoebe Snow at her best but overall, she simply cannot sing or hold her notes, just tries to sound breathy. With so many talented people out there, it seems to me that the spotlight would be better aimed at those with more talent. Her husband falls into the same category, another one that leaves me wondering if they used the same magic lamp. ;)

Trevor Wilson 12.25.12 at 3:58 pm

I agree with Harry. It’s telling that many of Kralls “fans” don’t have the critical ear required to truly be music critics. It’s obvious to anyone with any music training, that Krall can not hit her notes and hides in the musical weeds with her so-called “husky- smoky”renditions. The only thing that saves her albums are the wonderful arrangements of all the albums. Compare Krall with Fitzgerald, McRae, Welsman, Barlow etc. and it’s easy to see that Krall can’t compete musically-not even close. It’s one thing try and get by with so-called “sex appeal and vamp”, but to be truly considered an iconic jazz singer, there has to be evidence of talent. Being musically popular does not equate with being musically talented. Unfortunately that doesn’t sell well with today’s listening masses. Look at what passes for music talent nowadays: Justin Beiber, Josh Grobin, and a cast of thousands from American /Canadian Idol etc. This speaks more to the ability to sell mediocrity to an uncritical listening audience as long as you can provide glitzy packages and a shmarmy marketing plans that capture a “thirty something demographic” that tend to buys cases of beer with “prizes inside” and play XBOX video games as their sole entertainment. Enough said, I think.

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