Feel-good and familiar works for Diana Krall at NAC

Ottawa Citizen: Lynn Saxberg: May 31st 2015. Photo By Claude Paris.

Canada’s jazz queen, Diana Krall, is at a point in her career where she has no need to challenge or provoke her audience, as she demonstrated during a thoroughly enjoyable performance at the National Arts Centre on Sunday.

It was a feel-good concert of mostly familiar material designed to soothe, relax and comfort a sold-out audience of more than 2,000 fans. Accompanied by a small orchestra, as well as Krall’s skilled touring combo, the arrangements were lush and elegant, delivered with an unhurried pace that suited the easy-listening vibe.

This less-than-edgy phase of Krall’s career is encapsulated on her latest album, Wallflower, a collection of pop classics that was produced by Canadian hitmaker David Foster, best known for his work with artists like Celine Dion and Michael Bublé.

Fortunately, Krall has been able to avoid the overload of musical sentimentality that often comes with highly produced pop. Part of the reason for that, of course, is her voice, a smooth and velvety instrument better suited for caressing songs rather than belting them out. Another reason is the serious level of musicianship on stage. No matter what style she’s coaxing out of the ivories, Krall herself is a soulful and versatile pianist, while her bandmates are clearly among the best of the best.

The concert began with a pair of tunes from the early part of the last century, both included on Krall’s 2012 Glad Rag Doll album. We Just Couldn’t Say Goodbye featured Krall and her band, followed by the Bing Crosby nugget, There Ain’t No Sweet Man That’s Worth The Salt of My Tears, which was enhanced by a small orchestra made up of Ottawa musicians and conducted by Chris Walden.

Although Krall claimed at one point that she’s not a sentimental person, the 50-year-old mother of two delivered the songs with an undercurrent of emotion, and spoke of a strong connection with the arrangements. “I used to listen to these records … I never dreamed I’d get a chance to work with them. It’s really just a thrill for me,” she said. “It’s a great privilege.”

After the sultry Do It Again and the breathy So Nice, Let’s Fall in Love provided an opportunity for the band members – violinist Stuart Duncan, guitarist Anthony Wilson, bassist Dennis Crouch, drummer Karriem Riggins and keyboardist Patrick Warren – to strut their stuff, without being too loud or flashy.  Their playing was also highlighted during an extended version of the Tom Waits’ song, Temptation, that slid into the lilt of Sunny Side of the Street. Joni Mitchell’s A Case of You was a nice surprise in the setlist, sung with a longing that made your heart ache.

Other highlights were found among the oldies from her latest album, including the Mamas and Papas’ California Dreamin,’ Jim Croce’s Operator, Crowded House’s Don’t Dream It’s Over and Bob Dylan’s Wallflower.