It’s always been easy to be skeptical of Diana Krall, but the reasons to be skeptical keep evolving over the course of her career. At first, she seemed dismissable as little more than a talented nostalgia act singing hoary standards to be played in the background at dinner parties. Then beginning with 2001’s The Look of Love, she seemed to be making an awkward move towards being an easy-listening sexpot. Her fans cried foul — after all, what real artist would consent to having so many pictures taken of her cleavage? But their vitriol would really get spewing with 2004’s The Girl in the Other Room, which bore the unmistakable influence of new husband Elvis Costello. Not only did he co-write many of the songs, he seemed to introduce her to new artists like Tom Waits and Joni Mitchell. Crossing this stream of music with her own led her to sound an awful lot like Costello himself, a man determined to be considered a Renaissance Man no matter how much he embarrasses himself along the way.
The purists griped about Girl, of course, and probably redoubled their bellyaching once they realized that Krall’s new direction was inviting some of those oh-so-bourgeois Norah Jones fans into their once-elite fan club. But Krall is still very much her own artist, as she demonstrates on her new concert DVD, Live at the Montreal Jazz Festival. As she strolls onstage and counts off the first number, it becomes immediately clear that she doesn’t have a fraction of the warmth that Jones exudes, but her no-nonsense demeanor and willingness to keep the focus on the instrumental interplay within her excellent combo prove that she’s a lot more serious about jazz than Jones. The film’s director, Pierre Seguin, thinks so, too, and spends plenty of time lingering on shots of the musicians’ fingers and hands. Krall’s face, less striking than it appears in her many glamour shots, is shown far less often than one would expect. That might have something to do with the pinched expression Krall wears while she plays. She’s either not worried about looking sexy or has been horribly misled on the subject.
Krall is not worried about upsetting her old fans, either, since the bulk of Live‘s 13 tunes comes from The Girl in the Other Room. It’s a bold move to make at a jazz festival (as Bob Dylan could tell you, most genre festivals are unforgiving about members of the flock going astray), but no one seems to mind. And why should they? Krall isn’t playing “Kick Out the Jams” here. She’s merely injecting some pop into her jazz, and the balance rarely threatens to tip to the former. “Narrow Daylight”, featured here live and as a video that’s the only worthwhile bonus feature, represents one of the far points of her roaming away from straight jazz, and it’s not enough of a departure that anyone should lose any sleep. If there’s at least a little room in the world for a Krall hero like Mose Allison, then there should be room for this, too.