Review of Diana Krall’s Mondavi performance

I’m that obnoxious girl that knows every hit single on the radio, has contemplated life to every song by every obscure indie band too mainstream for Coachella and listens to Mozart while doing her homework. Though this is all true, my heart first and foremost belongs to jazz, which is why I am so grateful I got to attend Diana Krall’s performance at the Mondavi Center this past Sunday. Diana Krall is one of today’s most popular traditional jazz vocalists and pianists — a modern-day tribute to the likes of the brilliant Ella Fitzgerald and Billie Holiday. Her current tour features covers from her new album Glad Rag Doll as well as old favorites from past collections.

Krall opened her dynamic set with a sassy arrangement of “When the Curtain Comes Down” from her newest project. The song was accompanied by a video of actor Steve Buscemi providing old-timey theatrical asides and dance, setting the show up for a whirlwind of nostalgic repertoire. Krall was accompanied by a jazz combo for a large chunk of her set and each of these songs was complemented with black and white 1920’s film clips. The romantic motion of the clips helped to drive forward the sentimental overtones of each musical piece and added a dream-like effect to her overall performance.

Krall, known for her smoky-smooth alto vocals, sang “Just Like a Butterfly That’s Caught in the Rain” and “Let It Rain” among other selections from her new album. Her performance of “You Know – I Know Ev’rything’s Made for Love” was perhaps my favorite of the newest pieces as she added her famous Diana Krall-esque flair, driving the song as a playful ode to love.

Among her new selections, Krall also featured old hits like “Peel Me a Grape,” “Frim Fram Sauce” and “Willow Weep for Me.” Perhaps the pinnacle of the show was when Krall presented a stripped down acoustic version of “Let’s Face the Music and Dance.” Krall accompanied herself on a baby grand piano — washed out under blue lighting — and slowed the tempo from the original piece, blanketing the audience underneath a comforting eeriness and disintegrating the nervous energy from her prior pieces.

Krall showed off her piano chops by surrounding herself with three different pianos — a baby grand, a keyboard and an upright piano. She used each of them for different pieces, switching between all three and occasionally playing two of them at once. The jazz singer was accompanied in many of her songs by jazz fiddle-ist Stuart Duncan, keyboardist Patrick Warren, bassist Dennis Crouch and percussionist Karriem Riggins. Her quartet rode each piece with precision and soul and did justice to Krall’s sparkling performance.

At one point in the show, Krall let her combo go and presented a set of acoustic selections on her upright piano. The singer took song requests, humorously bantered about her family history and sang covers from Neil Young and Bob Dylan. The segment allowed the audience to cool down from her more fast-paced repertoire and allowed her vocals to take center-stage from the jazzy roll of her talented combo.

The show overall was what I expected: jazz-tastic and perfect. Krall has yet to fail an audience and holds high standards for her performances vocally and instrumentally. The amount of musicianship put into this tour is obvious and appreciated and leads me to wonder why all musicians can’t be this proactive about their work. Krall’s new album is now available on iTunes and Amazon.

— AKIRA OLIVIA KUMAMOTO