Booking singer Diana Krall into the Derby for a one-nighter must have seemed like a good idea in theory--present a talented new artist in one of the Southland's hot venues for young audiences.
But along the way, someone failed to consider whether Krall was the right artist for this particular room, given the fact that the club's setup--with a large oval bar in the center of the performance arena, only a few tables for seating and a billiard table in the far end of the room presenting a major distraction--was so inappropriate for the singer-pianist's intimate style.
The result was that, since the room was jammed, only half of the crowd was even able to see Krall, and most of the out-of-touch listeners were actively and noisily pursuing their own interests. The quest to find a way to bring jazz musicians to a wider range of audiences obviously is an important one. This time out, however, the solution was not a happy one.
Which is a shame, because Krall--to the extent that one could hear her amid a constant background buzz of talk and bar clatter--gave a delightful performance. Her current tour is a dedication to Nat "King" Cole, and her trio, with the extraordinarily gifted Russell Malone on guitar and Paul Keller on bass, had the easygoing rhythmic qualities of Cole's trios, while still retaining a strong, edgy, contemporary feeling.
Krall's voice, a richly timbred instrument, has been attractive since she first began adding singing to her articulate piano work a few years ago. But she now is becoming a first-rate interpreter as well, singing ballads with a rich understanding of the songs' stories and surging through rhythm songs such as "Route 66" (an appropriate choice, with composer Bobby Troup in the audience) and her signature rendering of "The Frim-Fram Sauce" with a crisp, foot-tapping drive.
Krall was especially well-served by Malone's guitar, which moved effortlessly from smooth, swing-style backing through a series of exuberant blues solos. And Keller, a quieter player, provided a continuously dependable foundation. Good music from a fine trio and a growing, impressive singer-pianist. Too bad it was so hard to hear the finely-drawn, inner subtleties of their splendid performance.
* Diana Krall also appears at The Chapel at the University of Redlands on Wednesday at 8 p.m. in a concert to support KUOR Jazz Radio, 89.1 FM. Information: (909) 335-4046 or (909) 867-4279.