Diana Krall: Live in Rio

Diana Krall
Live from Rio
(Eagle Rock Ent.)

From the opening moments of her Live in Rio DVD, singer Diana Krall makes her feelings abundantly clear: “I love the East, I love the West/North and South, they’re both the best/But I only want to go there as a guest/Cause I love being here with you.” If Krall’s easy seduction of her audience and their enthralled appreciation for her are any indications, then the singer does, indeed, feel at home in this exotic and beautiful setting.

Filmed at the famed Vivo Rio in Rio De Janeiro, Brazil, before a large audience seated intimately at candlelit tables, the DVD—part concert, part sing-a-long, part travelogue—showcases Krall’s immense talent as both vocalist and jazz pianist. Supported by a 4-piece combo, Krall delves into the Great American Songbook for standards by the Gershwins, Cole Porter, Rodgers and Hart, and Irving Berlin. And since the setting’s Rio, she delivers some of the tunes with a shot of jazz while putting a bossa nova twist on the rest. Berlin’s “Cheek to Cheek,” made famous by Fred Astaire, shoots out of the ensemble in rapid fire fashion. Lerner and Loewe’s “I’ve Grown Accustomed to His Face”—husband Elvis Costello’s favorite, she intones—receives the Latin treatment, and that Broadway classic is born anew. The entire evening surprises that way.

As a singer, Krall conveys deeply felt emotions with her distinctive, smoky voice. Any pitchiness is indicative of her trademark crooning; her notes resolve themselves in her unhurried good time. She puts over the lyrics of song after song with utter conviction as if she is realizing the meaning of the words at that particular moment; “Every Time We Say Goodbye” is just one evocative example. As a pianist, she seems to play effortlessly, caressing the grand piano with a gossamer touch. The fingers of her right hand flick the keys like raindrops on the leaves of a tree or June bugs on a screen door. Her skill, though deeply rooted in popular standards, takes flight on every number.

Krall is aptly supported by her combo. Anthony Wilson‘s intricate guitar licks are jaw-dropping. Drummer Jeff Hamilton is an artist with a pair of brushes. Acoustic bass player John Clayton provides a mellow foundation. And percussionist Paulinho DaCosta, a busy man, subtly fills in the gaps with an assortment of instruments. The knowing smiles on their faces prove what I’ve realized all along—when they’re jamming, jazz musicians are the happiest people in the world.

When, in the last third of the concert, Krall transitions to true Brazilian music, the evening takes on a more intimate tone, as though she’s invited the entire audience to stand around her at the piano. While performing the requisite “So Nice,” “Este Seu Olhar,” and “The Boy from Ipanema,” Krall grows silent, almost wistful, turns slightly to the crowd, and lets them sing. It’s a moment of rare generosity reciprocated. Her encore, “S Wonderful,” is a fitting tribute to those in the audience.

Interspersed throughout the DVD is footage of Rio’s sites—rolling surf, sun-drenched beaches, bleached skyscrapers, lush vegetation, wind-swept mist, ancient fountains, and the iconic Christ the Redeemer statue. These video sequences tantalize the viewer just enough to consider booking a flight.

Krall’s allure on this DVD is paradoxical. She’s an intensely focused musician with a faraway gaze. She plays fast but never seems to rush. She’s backed by a full but nearly unseen orchestra that soothes like an invisible tropical breeze. And, with her luminescent blond hair set against an often black background, she radiates an understated sultriness, the quintessence of cool hot jazz. In “Live in Rio,” Krall both swings and sways, embodying what bossa nova composer Carlos Lyra described as jazz’s “front to back” rhythm and samba’s “side to side.”

With financially strapped Americans opting for Staycations this summer, popping in “Diana Krall Live in Rio” may be the ideal peaceful, less expensive, and time-saving alternative to an actual trip to South America. Just bring down the lights, break out the wine, and send the kids packing.