(Royal Albert Hall, 31st October 2012. Second night of two. Review by Sebastian Scotney)
Royal Albert Hall, dearest Royal Albert Hall. For us music-obsessed Londoners, you’ve been a big part of our lives forever. I first got to know you when I was twelve years old. Arthur Rubinstein. School uniform (me). It’s been a long time, huh. Since then I must have sat or stood just about everywhere: upstairs, downstairs, in boxes, up in the Choir, never the Royal Box but the one next to it… we’ve had some great times, haven’t we.
Last night, it was a generously-timed nearly two-hour single set from Diana Krall. You gave me some moments to treasure, music which touched my heart, set my brain into overdrive. You always do. I shall remember Joni Mitchell’s A Case of You for a long time. It was a song thoroughly lived in, from a ten year-old album (Live in Paris) . And how marvellous to hear Nat King Cole’s Straighten Up and Fly Right, the same only even more so, from that virtually twenty year-old debut album (Stepping Out). Krall was at an upright piano, alone, back-to-the audience, without the adornment or rather the distraction of silent movies.
But, Albert – first names seem right after all this time – there were moments I’d rather forget, too. The sound of those lower frequencies from where I was sitting in M Block. Can we talk about it please? Don’t get into a strop, we know each other too well for that. But what were you doing with the sound of bassist Dennis Crouch and drummer Jay Bellarose . It might have worked brilliantly on an Elvis Costello album in a Nashville studio, but it was coming out with the consistency of thick mud from where I was sitting. I guess the bass has a different function in the country music that Crouch emerges from, than in jazz. It’s an accompaniment, a shadow, a colour, rather than driving the harmonic rhythm. And Bellarose tends to in-fill the sound with both his arms barrel-full of percussion. But it was all so indistinct. And in some of those newer songs, the mushy sound seemed to reinforce their shortcomings. From where I sat, Here Lies Love just seemed disposable, insubstantial, aimless. I’d better listen to it again.
But what can’t be heard can’t really be reviewed. Al (“you can call me Al”? ), you weren’t really helping tonight. Best to forgive and forget. Till next time, eh.
It was indeed a shame. The drifting sounds often made it feel like sitting in an airport hanger. It might have added to the halloweenean spookiness, but I doubt it's been setup on purpose.
Yet, it was fantastic to see DK again. She's a phenomenal talent and exploring all those new direction (the first slight departure came with the sensational singer-songwriter release “The Girl In The Other Room” in 2004) shows off her versatility and intelligence.
I wish we could have had this in a slightly more intimate venue. It would have meant more nights in London to give everyone their fix without quadrupeling the ticket price, but if there's one thing I've learned in recent years: You gotta pick the right venue for your music.
Georgina Bromilow writes:
Yes, I agree! Went a couple of years ago to see her there (I'm a big fan!) and the sound was terrible, it's a beautiful place but wish she would go somewhere else…
I couldn't agree with you more. Ms Krall was wonderful and her band were astounding, but she doesn't have much stage presence or showmanship, and so the music is everything (as, perhaps, it should be!) and those stray echoes and overtones (oddly enough in the more upbeat songs and not the quieter ones) were very distracting.
I didn't see the silent movies as a distraction at all, though. I thought they were cleverly chosen, and, certainly in the case of the tango sequence danced by George Raft and Carole Lombard, the coordination was surprising.
I've not seen Diana Krall before (though I've been a lover of her recordings for some years) and I'd love to see her again, but not at The Albert Hall.
The evening started well with a French 190 at The Gore Hotel – for those of you interested, a delicious mix of dry gin and grapefruit topped up with champagne – delicious it may have been and really quite alcoholic, but sadly not enough to deaden the pain of what was to come.
For me, like Sebastian Scotney, The Royal Albert Hall holds dear memories. These include seeing Harry Connick Jr. early on in his career (apologies to pure jazz aficionados reading this, but you can’t deny his talent as a singer and entertainer), and was spellbound throughout. And more recently, watching the digitally re-mastered film, West Side Story, with music played live by the Royal Philharmonic Concert Orchestra. Many a jazz musician has drawn from this musical score and it was a joy to be reminded of the wonder that was the collaboration between Leonard Bernstein and Stephen Sondheim. Sadly, last nights visit to see Diana Krall is one memory that I'd rather forget.
Others have already commented on the sound quality, the lack of intimacy, engagement and I agree wholeheartedly. I think my biggest complaint though, is that the event itself was mis-sold. I've checked again and nowhere on the Royal Albert Hall promotional copy does it suggest that this particular concert was to be a departure from the more, dare I utter the words “mainstream” and “mellow” strain of jazz that she is most well known for. We should have guessed there was a slightly different flavour to the evening when the concert started with vintage black and white footage, plus voiceover by Ms Krall. We sat patiently, in our very expensive seats, miles from the stage, waiting for something special to happen. Eventually Ms Krall appeared, but unfortunately for her (and for us) with a cold, which affected her range and maybe her enthusiasm for performing, whatever the reasons, nothing special was forthcoming. From where we sat it could have been a female impersonator miming, why not use the screen behind the band to show a close up of the performance instead of the endless, repetitive black and white movies, which only sought to detract (annoy?) rather than enhance the music. Ah yes, the music….
I'd treated friends to last night’s concert, two of whom were jazz virgins. Two songs in and one was contemplating leaping from the Gods (where we were sat), praying not only for a soft landing on the unsuspecting audience below, but also for a merciful release from what was a dull, dull, dull choice of songs. Not once were we moved, other than to enquire among ourselves, in hushed whispers, how soon we could escape. Unfortunately there wasn't an interval and we were subjected to almost two hours of Ms Krall's latest 'departure'.
By way of disclaimer, let me be clear that I have absolutely no objection to musicians exploring new avenues. After all, I think most of us would get bored singing My Funny Valentine night after night, year after year. But PLEASE educate us beforehand so that we can make a choice as to whether we want to spend our hard earned money on listening to a night of tried and tested jazz standards or something a little different.
Unlike my cocktail, last nights performance neither shook nor stirred.
Mark Ramsden wrote by email:
Cool review. Loved the Dear Albert stuff.
I saw Diana Krall at the Festival Hall in London a few years back and she was absolutely brilliant. Unfortunately this latest concert at the Albert Hall didn't do it for me. I was really looking forward to the big orchestra again but my heart sank when I realised that her band consisted of drums, bass, guitar, violin and keyboard. It just didn’t do justice to the size of the venue. She has obviously changed direction (probably husband Elvis Costello has had a major influence here) and is looking for new avenues to explore. Personally I think she has taken a backward step, as her real talent lies in jazz and in jazz improvisation. We had very little of this and we were subjected to very folksy, country and western style music which was not what I expected. There was one song which I thought was absolutely dreadful. Jungle music springs to mind! The drummer played with this silly little furry thing like a teddy stuck on his left hand for most of the evening, the purpose of which I assume was to create a sort of jingly sound like a tambourine. There was no sophistication there at all. The poor acoustics of the Albert hall only added to the pain. No clarity, no distinction, no intimacy. Just a cacophony of extraneous sounds.
There was a screen playing obscure 1920s style silent movies, with scenes from Thunderbirds thrown in for good measure which had no relevance whatsoever to the music that was being played. In a huge venue like the Albert Hall surely a close-up of the musicians and in particular Diana would have been far more appropriate. I also thought turning her back on the audience when playing the small upright piano was not strictly PC.
To top it all, the acoustics of the Albert hall did her no favours. No clarity, no distinction, no intimacy. Just a cacophony of extraneous sounds. Very disappointing.
To sum it all up then, there were one or two numbers which succeeded in showing her undoubted talents, but overall, it was a big disappointment for a committed Diana Krall fan.
I share your pain John Manley
She cannot seriously continue in this direction… disappointed evening.
You should try moving next time..Great from my seat.
This is a very interesting review. I have been a Diana Krall fan since 2004, when a dear old lady on Vancouver Island invited me to watch the dvd of “Live in Montreal” at her house. I was hooked and really appreciate Diana Krall's piano playing and singing, especially the ballads and melancholy stuff like “Case of You”. I love playing her piano transcriptions, especially “Maybe You'll be There” which took me ages to learn and makes me respect her even more. I considered going to this concert and decided that it was the wrong venue. I listened to the whole of her new album (this new departure as you call it) and I loved it. I love all of her music and feel too often that jazz listeners are too boring in their tastes. I went to some jazz concerts and began to realize that jazz listeners just seem to want the same songs in the same style and format. Jazz in that respect has become a style that lacks innovation when that is supposed to be the point of the idiom. Good on Diana for pushing the boundaries. I hope next time she comes to England she will play some more intimate venues so that folks can really appreciate the amazing talent she has. Sorry your friends were disappointed but it could have been a mixture of their narrow tastes and the problem with the unsuitable venue.
You are absolutely right in most of what you say. I suppose where I might disagree slightly is with the use of “narrow tastes”. I've spent many years working at understanding jazz. Starting with the most easily accessible – jazz standards – is a good way to introduce people to the genre. From there they can either choose (as I did) to explore jazz in its broadest form, or not. For example, If you'd asked me a few years ago what I thought of Roberto Fonseca you'd get a very different answer to the one I'd give today (I love his music by the way).
Dave Mills November 5th
What a great review. I entirely agree with all your comments. After waiting six months since buying a ticket it was a terrible anti-climax.
We agree with this review fully. Coming from Holland we had tickets for two concerts of DK. First in Amsterdam and later in Paris. Amsterdam was cancelled caused by illness so we saw this tour-concert first in Paris. It was very disappointing. Over the pas twelve years we have seen al her concerts in Paris, Nice and Amsterdam. This concert going back to twenties and with another band was so poor that we left the concert after one hour. Fortunately, we could cancel the concert in Amsterdam held later. Message tot Diana, please pick your old band and repertoire. Peter K.D. de Vries