Diana Krall and ESO dress up jaunty jazz, bluegrass and well-known hits

EDMONTON - “I still feel like I’m 15 years old playing in the band jazz fest,” said Diana Krall midway through her 90-minute Monday concert at the Northern Alberta Jubilee Auditorium.

Edmonton Journal: Julia Leconte: Photograph By Bruce Edwards. May 12th 2015.

EDMONTON - “I still feel like I’m 15 years old playing in the band jazz fest,” said Diana Krall midway through her 90-minute Monday concert at the Northern Alberta Jubilee Auditorium.

“That’s a really good feeling, a positive, grateful feeling.”

It seemed very genuine — the Canadian jazz artist exudes that slightly awkward, not-quite-sure-of-herself vibe when she’s conversing with the audience. But musically, there wasn’t a hint of band camp. Not a whiff.

It must be strange being Diana Krall, playing Americana and jazz and blues-rock and bluegrass tunes in grand concert halls across Canada — songs that could be played in tiny clubs in Nashville or Toronto or Austin or Jackson, where patrons would sing along and dance and shout. Instead, she plays in grand theatres to audiences who, despite polite and rapt attention in a room with exceptional acoustics, can’t give back or connect to the artist in quite the same way it seems the songs were intended.

But for this occasion, Krall dressed up her tunes in a way that seemed location-appropriate yet true to their original form. Indeed, for this, the first stop on a Canadian tour, the songs benefited from the accompaniment of the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra, who perfectly complemented the singer without once attempting to steal the show. When the ensemble was fully engaged, Krall’s familiar thick, husky alto seemed to hover in the arrangement like one of its instruments — pretty neat, considering Krall and Edmonton’s finest don’t practise together.

Despite the orchestra’s grandeur and cinematic flair, Krall and her band were unquestionably the stars. The singer sat at a grand piano for the duration of the show, and the first act, especially — favouring Americana and bossa nova tunes, plus a few originals — showcased her exceptional five-piece band: stand-up bass, drums, guitars, keys and fiddle.

The latter, Grammy-winning bluegrass musician Stuart Duncan, proved the surprise second-star. His solos inspired knee-slapping in a place where knees aren’t often slapped — fiddle-music in the style of classical violin.

But the show really started when Krall switched over from Americana to Joni Mitchell’s A Case Of You. Maybe it was because of the shift in tone — jaunty jazz gave way to contemplative singer-songwriter fare — but it seemed like the show took a personal turn, and Krall’s rendition was the best we’ve heard since James Blake took a stab at the tune on 2011’s Enough Thunder.

It was also a great transition to the ’70s tunes from her latest album, Wallflower — after which this particular tour is named — that made up the back half of the concert.

The second act offered welcome well-known hits: an up-tempo, Caribbean-flavoured California Dreamin’; a rendition of Jim Croce’s Operator that Krall said she loves listening to on vinyl when she visits home in Vancouver Island; If I Take You Home Tonight by Paul McCartney; and the album’s eponymous single Wallflower by Bob Dylan — made all the better by its smooth harmonies, courtesy of Duncan.

An encore of The Look Of Love captured the mood of the room. A good start to a 17-date tour.