I'm a pretty casual Diana Krall fan; I've got a couple of her records, I always enjoy her mellow arrangements and smoky voice when one of her songs comes up during a shuffle on my iPod, and that's about it. But her new concert disc Diana Krall: Live in Rio is just plain enchanting. Filmed last November and featuring much of the same talent and music assembled for her recent bossa nova-flavored Quiet Nights album, Live in Rio has the same warm, mellow, at-home vibe that I so admired on last year's Live from Jazz at Lincoln Center DVD (featuring Wynton Marsalis and Willie Nelson).
The program begins with a brief series of Rio de Janeiro beauty shots (which are occasionally, awkwardly cut into the concert as well) before settling on Krall and her band on stage in front of a packed house at Vivo Rio, where they smoothly run through eighteen songs, most of them jazz and pop standards given a (sometimes barely perceptible) regional flavor. Krall takes the vocals and piano, and for backing, she has a terrific quartet--John Clayton on acoustic bass, Jeff Hamilton on drums, Anthony Wilson on guitar, and Paulinho DeCosta on percussion--with the Rio De Janeiro Orchestra (conducted by Ruria Duprat) adding the lushness of Claus Ogerman's arrangements. All are splendid, while Krall's playing is excellent and her silky voice is in fine form. I've never really understood the folks (and there are plenty of them) who dislike Krall's voice; I find her vocals to be soulful and understated, with the lived-in quality of the best jazz songstresses.
The video recording of this particular performance is a fairly standard affair; there's not much that a director and editor can do in a live concert film that's terribly unexpected, but director David Barnard manages to put his cameras in the right places and assemble it into a smooth, professional package. He smartly keeps a camera tightly trained on Krall throughout, so that he can catch some of her smaller touches in performance (my favorite was her longing little sigh leading into the bridge of "Let's Fall In Love"). She also has some nice audience byplay; when a fan shouts "I love you," she replies, "Oh, I'm difficult, but I thank you" without missing a beat.
But the music is just wonderful. "I Love Being Here With You" is a marvelous, toe-tapping opener, and their rendition of "I've Grown Accustomed To His Face" is absolutely lovely. Her stirring cover of "Walk on By" is a highlight, as is their spirited, fast-tempo "Cheek to Cheek." Her take on "You're My Thrill" is moody, atmospheric, and a little dark. "So Nice" (with some expert ivory-tinkling by Krall) is a definite crowd-pleaser, but the audience goes absolutely nuts when she (ably) sings "Este Seu Olhar" in their native tongue. Her version of "I Don't Know Enough About You" proves a rousing closer (pre-encore, of course), while "S'Wonderful" is warm and bewitching.
The Blu-ray Disc:
The good news is that the concert is so entrancing; the bad news is that the video quality is so very shoddy. The 1.78:1 image arrives via the MPEG-4 AVC codec, and some shots are stunning--specifically, those outdoor exterior shots of the city and beaches of Rio. Once they get inside, though, watch out. Tight close-ups look good (dig the detail in the close of Krall's foot on the piano peddle), but the videographers were apparently unable to figure out how to properly shoot a high-def image in the low light of the concert hall. As a result, medium shots are mildly noisy and wide shots are worse; the black levels are shockingly uneven, plagued by minor flickering and heavier-than-average grain, and the sparsely-lit audience shots are downright fuzzy, looking worse than an upconverted standard-def DVD. In all frankness, the video quality is probably the least important element of this presentation, and it's not an eyesore or anything, but it's certainly a disappointment.
On the other hand, I don't have a single complaint about the audio presentation. Viewers get three options: LPCM Stereo, Dolby Digital 5.1, and DTS HD Master Audio. I went with the latter, and was rewarded with one the cleanest, crispest concert audio recordings this side of The Police: Certifiable. Krall's center channel vocals are rich and clear, and instrumentation is evenly spread and dynamic. The wonderfully robust upright bass fills out the LFE channel nicely, and the use of the rear surrounds for applause and audience reaction completes this beautifully immersive aural experience.
The primary bonus feature of note is the Blu-ray exclusive "Rooftop Sessions" (13:57), an informal, four-song unplugged set (they do "The Boy From Ipanema," "Too Marvelous For Words," "Cheek To Cheek," and "Quiet Night"), apparently performed, (at first unnoticed) at a rooftop restaurant/bar. Video quality here is much improved over the concert itself (it's a daylight/dusk exterior), and there's an enjoyably low-key, off-the-cuff quality to these performances.
The remaining extras also appear on the standard-definition release. The "Quiet Conversations" (19:21) featurette focuses on both the concert and the Quiet Nights album, with Krall and her fellow musicians discussing the intersection of jazz standards and bossa nova, as well as the formation of this particular combination of musicians. The bonus section closes out with a Promotional Film (4:58) for "The Boy from Ipanema," mostly comprised of the kind of Rio B-roll used in the concert film (with, strangely, only a few glimpses of Krall).
The less-than-stellar video quality prevents this reviewer from giving Diana Krall: Live in Rio one of our higher recommendations, but it's still absolutely worth picking up; the show itself is marvelous and the concert audio is reference-quality. Like a good jazz album, it's the kind of disc that can be re-spun again and again, either as background or a mellowing foreground.
Jason lives with his wife Rebekah and their daughter Lucy in New York. He holds an MA in Cultural Reporting and Criticism from NYU. He is film editor for Flavorwire and is a contributor to Salon, the Atlantic, and several other publications. His first book, Pulp Fiction: The Complete History of Quentin Tarantino's Masterpiece, was released last fall by Voyageur Press. He blogs at Fourth Row Center and is yet another critic with a Twitter feed.