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Diana Krall, The Girl In
The Other Room (Verve CVER 229336 SA)
Diana Krall's fans seem pretty evenly split into two camps. The first group is comprised of those who blandish her with adulation, fawning on every quirky syllable that flows from her sweetest of Canadian lips. Then there are those who dig the music, but also think she's as much a product of slick corporate marketing as she is a genuinely talented chanteuse. I fall somewhere in the middle. I find her talent and appeal undeniable, but I'd be a little more comfortable frothing over her if her CD packages and promo materials looked less like Vanity Fair photo shoots than portrayals of a serious artist plying her craft. But then, she's (reasonably) young, beautiful, and the clock may be ticking on her fifteen minutes, so what the hey, if you've got it, might as well flaunt it, right?
Her latest effort, The Girl In The Other Room, follows closely on the heels of her marriage to Elvis Costello, and his influence on her seems to be pretty profound. This disc is quite a departure from Krall's recent foray into lushly orchestrated standards, and represents a return to the style of her more intimate and less heavily produced first couple of albums. It also represents her first offering of original material, with about half the songs co-written with husband Costello. So while it may satisfy the hounds who have been relentlessly barking for her to abandon The Look Of Love-era primping and posturing, it may also give them cause to worry that the corrupting influence of Mr. Costello will sully what jazz credentials DK has left.
Not to worry, troops, because The Girl In The Other Room is not only Diana Krall's most idealistic and adventurous album to date, it may be–dare I say it?—her best (!) and jazziest (!) record yet. I know, I know, the lovers of DK from her All For You period have all dropped what they were doing and begun to gather firewood and a big stake—"We have found a witch, may we burn him!"—but just put away the matches, pull up a chair, pop in this disc, and give it a good listen.
Actually, it might take several good listens before you start to hear the genius. Opening the accompanying booklet should serve to soothe the frazzled nerve endings of many fans. Gone are the silly, glassy-eyed, absurdly posed photo spreads of the recent albums, and in their place are—lyrics, of all things! So whether it's a result of the savage relentlessness and insistence of her true fans or the Bohemian influence of Elvis, she's gone for a welcome change of image. As the listening progresses, you'll see that the change is not only in her appearance—there's been a more than subtle shift in every aspect of her artistic presentation, and it's very much for the better.
Upon first listen (and, I'll admit, for the first few listens) this music sounded pretty foreign to me. Gone were the toe-tapping, spirited numbers like "Errand Girl For Rhythm" and "Frim Fram Sauce" and sultry, smoky numbers like "Peel Me A Grape." About the closest to jazz standards are the opening tune, Mose Allison's "Stop This World" and the relatively obscure "I'm Pulling Through." Even the cover tunes are drawn from more pop-influenced sources (Tom Wait's "Temptation, " Joni Mitchell's "Black Crow," Chris Smither's "Love Me Like A Man"), but they still contain the necessary jazz sensibilities to make them viable vehicles for DK's smoky-sweet delivery. Try to imagine a world in which jazz artists never thought of taking pop tunes and making them their own! That would eliminate about half the recorded jazz canon of the last seventy or so years.
The originals are a pretty even mix of ballads and blues, and although they're not at all what we've become so used to from Diana Krall, they're sung with confidence and conviction. Actually, because so much of this music is new and not just another rehashing of tired old standards, it demands your attention and draws you intimately into the performances. You begin to notice more of the details—exactly how incredibly exquisite and soulful DK's playing has become, for example—along with a few warts (my wife invariably points out her occasional syllabic inconsistencies). Everything here has a refreshing rawness, but because most of the accompanying players are Krall veterans, there's a certain comforting familiarity as well. And despite the pared-down arrangements and new lyric territory, the one constant is that this is indeed jazz, and often, about as good as it gets.
The sound quality from Universal's hybrid SACD is exemplary in both hi-res stereo and multi-channel mixes. The five-channel mix places you in more of a stage perspective, with some of the instruments coming from slightly behind and to the sides, but nothing about the mix made me at all squeamish, and I found that I actually preferred it to the stereo mix. If I had a quibble with the multi-channel mix, it would be that Krall’s voice is not prominent enough in the center channel. This may only be a personal problem, though—I recently rearranged my listening/home theater room into a more near-field configuration, and with the acquisition of dedicated theater seating, the listening position (and sweet spot) is just a tad off-center. It’s nothing that can't be corrected by leaning a bit to the left in my seat, which snaps everything into focus, but over a prolonged period, just about snaps my neck as well! Other discs that have a more prominent center-channel mix alleviate this, and I'm discovering an ever- increasing preference for multi-channel SACDs.
I've listened to The Girl In The Other Room so many times in recent weeks that the obligatory "Oh my God, not this again," rolled-eyeball look from the wife has become second nature, but I never fail to come away from the experience without new insight and appreciation for the songs. While this music took some time to warm up to, its playing time now passes all too quickly. Very well worth any effort that might be required to get into it. Tom Gibbs