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Krall still not sassy enough

Diana Krall - Quiet Nights
(Verve)
2 stars (out of 5 stars)
Reviewed: May 8, 2009
Diana Krall

Review by John Halverson

Bossa nova is a tricky medium. Too much sweetness and it very quickly tilts over to elevator music.

Since there are only so many ways to arrange "Girl from Ipanema," it requires a distinctive singing style to get it into the jazz category, where it belongs, instead of relegated to dentist offices and grocery stores where it too often ends up. Frank Sinatra pulled it off 40 years ago, at the height of the Brazilian music craze, with "Francis Albert Sinatra and Antonio Carlos Jobim." Forty years after first hearing it, I still find the album intoxicating.

The latest Diana Krall album, Quiet Nights, is the most recent attempt by a jazz artist to capture what seems to be Brazilian music resurgence. Even though Quiet Nights is billed as bossa nova only half fit that billing. It's the modern day idea of a concept album—say it has a purpose and hope people will buy into it even if you have to cheat a little bit. Krall's a known talent but always seemed a bit too civilized for her own good, which you'd think would position her well for some Brazilian swing. So it probably made sense to fold an album around the medium. While her voice has a bit of the smokiness of Peggy Lee with whispers of k.d. lang, it's most defining attribute is its flute-like clarity. While half of Quiet –"Too Marvelous for Words" for instance—is an old saw in the traditional jazz stylist tool kit, the other half is straight out of the "Getz & Gilberto" style manual.

Krall's silky pipes make you almost feel the soft tropical air in "Este Seu Olhar" and the title track. Even those that weren't boss nova hits when they first came out, like "Walk on By" fair well using bossa's easy swing. Slow. Easy. Meditative. With just a tinge of mango. But it takes a genius like Sinatra, who intuitively knew the treatment to give any song, to add just enough spice to the delicate bossa nova brew. He could etch his own style into the most common melodies and make it all seem effortless. Krall seems to have taken an easier, and less original path, riding the crest of the music without ever cutting across the waves.

The cover shot on Quiet Nights shows a slightly disheveled Krall, but her music is still too buttoned-down for me. True, she's added just enough style to take it out of the elevator and into the clubs. Yet Quiet Nights left me wanting. While "Sinatra & Jobim" sounds fresh four decades after I first heard it, Krall can only take it so far. Like Norah Jones, Krall is too good for the elevator now, but nothing you'll be listening in 2049.

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