Procrastinating rhythm

March 25, 2002



Midway through her sold-out show Saturday night, jazz phenom Diana Krall paused to scold a man in the front row who'd placed his glass on the lip of the stage.

"What do you think this is, Jilly's West?" the comely Canadian snapped.

Then the vocalist and pianist thought better of her outburst. "Well, I am singing saloon songs," she said with a smile.

She was indeed, and she delivered nearly two hours of them in an accomplished set that could not be criticized on the basis of chops (either hers or those of her backing trio), as some jazz purists do. ("Anything that's selling that well can't be 'real' jazz!") The show's only problem was the dominance of slow- to mid-tempo songs.

It would have been nice to hear more of the sassy, sexy bossa-nova grooves that prevail on Krall's latest album, "The Look of Love," and less ultra-sleepy material in the mode of her near-pulseless reading of Cole Porter's "I've Got You Under My Skin." In Krall's saloon, the clock on the wall was darn near closing time, if it wasn't already after hours. This would have been fine at the Jazz Showcase or the Green Mill, but the show could have used a little more "oomph" in the sizable setting of the Chicago Theatre.

Quibbles about song selection aside, Krall's dark, smoky voice was in fine form, and she alternated with guitarist Anthony Wilson to stretch out her traditional cabaret material with flights of instrumental fancy. (The 37-year-old is rarely given the props she deserves for her work tinkling the ivories.) Her longtime bassist John Clayton continued to be a powerful presence, and while the young Chicagoan George Fludas was no Peter Erskine, he swung with style on the drums, especially during his deft brush work.

Krall continued to emphasize her fondness for Peggy Lee, opening and closing the set proper with songs that Lee made famous, and chatting with obvious fandom about "The Lady and the Tramp" and "Pete Kelly's Blues." It's only a matter of time before Krall records her Lee tribute album, a la her earlier disc of songs by Nat King Cole, and she hopes to portray Lee on film (another horizon for the ambitious performer to cross).

The first encore, a sublime reading of "'S Wonderful," was another of the evening's highlights. The only other misstep was when Krall returned one more time to deliver a solo "Border Song." Even this usually dedicated rock fan considers it a sin to follow George Gershwin with Elton John.