Diana Krall performs at the Box in Manhattan. (Photo: Cindy Ord/Getty Images)
When singer-pianist Diana Krall took the stage with her new touring outfit last night at the Box, her elegant attire inspired few double takes. She chose an impeccably tailored black suit for the band's coming-out party, the diametric opposite of the sultry undergarments she donned for the cover art of Glad Rag Doll, her new T-Bone Burnett-produced album due October 2.
Given that the Box is a nightclub/performance space on New York's Lower East Side that is thematically designed to resemble a vaudeville-era burlesque saloon, the venue was clearly chosen for its suggestion of the visual concept. "When you see the imaging for the album," said Jamie Krents, the Verve Music Group's VP of International, "the photos almost could've been taken in this room. It was an easy decision to do the how here because the fit was fairly intuitive."
(L-R): Mike Rittberg (VP Artist Development & Promotion, Verve) and Jamie Krents (Head of International, Verve) hang out as Diana Krall debuts new material at the Box.
Krall's choice of attire meant that the music would be providing whatever fireworks the evening offered up. She had plenty of help in that department; the band, an all-star ensemble assembled by Burnett for Glad Rag Doll's jaunt through tunes from the '20s and '30s, included guitarist Marc Ribot and bluegrass heavyweight Stuart Duncan on fiddle. Several folks were overheard at the main bar wondering if "Mr. Krall was in the house," a reference to Elvis Costello, the singer's husband (he wasn't).
Although all of the pieces are of a different vintage than many of the American Songbook favorites that Krall fans have come to expect, she explained that she had as much if not more history with them. "Many of these were my Dad's records that became mine," Krall said after the simple rendition of "Just Like A Butterfly (Caught In the Rain)," a Harry Woods piece popularized by the swing-era pianist Teddy Wilson. "[My father] had so many 78s, and played them all the time when I was young."
Diana Krall on stage. (Photo: Cindy Ord/Getty Images)
Last night's abbreviated set (they played just seven of the album's 13 pieces) constituted the band's first-ever live performances. Less Ribot, who won't be available in the coming months, the rest of the group ( Jay Bellerose, drums; Dennis Crouch, bass) will head out on tour next month.
Krall was poised onstage, her voice alternating between breathy and husky. The biggest surprises were the arrangements of two songs that constitute outliers in the album's predominating vaudeville-era concept. First, Doc Pomus' '50s classic "Lonely Avenue" was turned epic by pitting the stringpickers against Bellerose's mallets. Krall followed that up with an earthy version of a song called "Wide River To Cross," a contemporary hymn written in 2004 by Nashville guitarist-singer Buddy Miller. Krall's manager Steve Macklam of Macklam Feldman felt that both tunes undercut the perception of the album as strictly "antique." "Yes, it's music from those earlier eras," he opined, "but it's being rendered very much for today's times."
Steve Macklam (Krall's manager) and Sam Feldman of Macklam Feldman Management attending Diana Krall's appearance. (Photo: Cindy Ord/Getty Images)
"We shipped the record out to AAA radio this time," said Rittberg. "We have early support from stations that have never played Diana before."
For her part, at the bar after the gig Krall admitted that the excitement of a debut performance also comes with a bit of anxiety (earlier, she'd even baptized her own playing with an expletive during one particularly knotty piano passage). "It's true that right now we're in that space of spontaneity that you kinda always wanna be in," she began, "but it's not like knowing everybody and having a sense of where things are gonna go. All these guys are on the album, but I'd only played with Dennis before, very briefly. He was on a gig with my husband and I sat in. I really can't wait to get out there and see where it takes us."