Visitors to my home in Portland, whether or not they are professional musicians, regularly marvel at what we comically refer to as my "wall of Brasilian music," a collection of probably well over 1000 CDs of various kinds of music from "down Rio way." While I was too young to experience the first wave of Bossa Nova, which really hit American shores in 1962-63 (yes, for you sticklers, it had been around since 1959 and several artists recorded Bossa Nova before Getz-Gilberto made it a household word), I was the perfect age to experience the second wave of the "Brasilian invasion" when Sergio Mendes & Brasil '66 started charting regularly in the late 1960s. Brasil '66 literally changed my life--I had never heard anything so harmonically advanced or so rhythmically expressive, and it didn't hurt that the group's leader played keyboards, my instrument of choice. My love affair with Brasilian music has only grown in the intervening decades and I count myself blessed to be able to make a substantial part of my musical livelihood off of playing this remarkably complex yet accessible music.
Diana Krall has proven herself to be a jazz-pop star of unusual crossover appeal, and she continues to mine that vein in her most recent CD, "Quiet Nights," which takes a pass at several Bossa Nova standards, everything from Jobim's "Corcovado" to the Valle Brothers' "Summer Samba (So Nice)," as well as jazz standards at least slightly tinged with latin rhythms. Krall, in her CD and on this new DVD (also out on BD), is helped immensely by orchestrator Claus Ogerman. Ogerman famously arranged the first American Verve sides for Jobim, and continued to work with the master for decades afterward, contributing his impeccable instrumental backings to a host of recordings that numbered among Tom's best.
This DVD is an enjoyable romp, if somewhat light on the Brasilian side of things (despite its insert notes to the contrary). Diana works her trademark swing style with her soft, Peggy Lee inflected vocals. I must confess I'm not a huge fan of Diana's singing. If you want something soft and Brasilian, there's always Astrud Gilberto, not to mention Wanda Sa, Elizete Cardoso, Gracinha Leporace and a host of others who will give you a more "genuine" experience. Where Krall excels is with her lovely and I think underappreciated piano. Krall isn't necessarily the flashiest keyboard artist out there (she can't hold a candle to Brasil's Eliane Elias, for example), but she's unfailingly smart and in the pocket in a Nat King Cole sort of way, and she proves that time and time again on this release. She's also backed by an incredible band, including the wonderful guitarist Anthony Wilson. Listen to Wilson's ingenuity in introducing "Let's Fall in Love" with a great little quote from "Felicidade" from Black Orpheus. Krall does bring a little native Brasilian expertise to her band with legendary percussionist Paulinho da Costa (from Sergio Mendes' band, among other credits too numerous to mention). Krall exudes sultriness, something you will either find endearing or annoying, depending on your frame of mind. Tossing her golden locks to and fro, she's pinup girl as jazz "artiste," something that some Brasilians may find a bit off putting. The Brasilian musical ethos is typically one of absolute non-pretention, something which Krall approaches in her musicality if not her actual physicality.
The best charts in this set are the tunes which lend themselves to the Bossa Nova treatment, like Rodgers and Hart's "Where or When," from the "Quiet Nights" CD, as well as the handful of actual Bossa Nova tunes included. Some of the straight ahead swing tunes, like concert opener "I Love Being Here With You," while pleasant, may be a bit too much of "been there, done that" for longtime Krall fans, bringing back memories of other tunes in the same vein like "Hit that Jive, Jack." Other songs that you might think would be naturals, like Bacharach and David's "Walk on By," are curiously ineffective.
Behind it all, though, are Ogerman's incredibly lovely orchestrations. If you're not familiar with Ogerman's work, you simply must take some time to check out his legion of albums with everyone who's anyone in the jazz (and sometimes, pop) world. Ogerman goes back some 50 years now in the American and Continental music scenes, and you will find no more tasteful, brilliant orchestrator in the annals of popular music. His restraint and unmistakable luster seem ideally suited to Bossa Nova, with its languid rhythms and shifting, quasi-French impressionistic harmonies.
A little more than halfway through the Brasil '66 canon, Sergio Mendes released an album called "Ye-Me-Le." A lot of longtime fans felt Mendes was suddenly coasting after the artistic high water marks of "Look Around" and especially "Fool on the Hill." After all, here was someone who had introduced a remarkable array of post-Jobim Brasilian writers (people like Edu Lobo and Milton Nascimento) to a lot of Americans, suddenly opting to do not very Brasilianized versions of tunes like Jimmy Webb's "Wichita Lineman." Some viewers may find themselves reacting similarly to this Krall outing--it could be argued she's coasting, not exploring very much and kind of taking it easy. Of course, that may be perfectly Brasilian in and of itself to some folks, but I think with careful listening, there's a lot to enjoy in this concert DVD, even if, as in the case of Mendes' "Ye-Me-Le," there's a dearth of actual Brasilian material here. Krall's piano chops are always distinctive, if never very far outside the mainstream, and her alto, while not especially remarkable, has the smoothness and lack of vibrato that is the hallmark of some of the greatest Brasilian chanteuses.
Diana Krall in Rio is a quiet night in and of itself. It's about as antithetical to bombast as you can get, but that's part of its charm.