Friday at the Hollywood Bowl was billed as a Latin-themed night, with "an exotic lineup of romantic, jazzy and Latin American orchestral music" executed by the L.A. Philharmonic, segueing into an appearance by Diana Krall. The artist is fresh off releasing her "Brazilian-inspired" album "Quiet Nights," featuring "sultry selections of standards and sambas."
Krall, bless her, had a different idea. Rather than treat the material as some luscious, mysterious musical Other, she and her sterling bandmates made Latin-jazz syncopations and Brazilian New Wave riffs seem utterly organic to her performance, as if she'd grown up strolling the beach at Copacabana rather than the shores of British Columbia.
"I'm not about to do 'Pump It Up' as a bossa nova," she joked, alluding to one of her husband Elvis Costello's catchiest post-punk anthems. "Save that for the cruise ship."
Indeed, Friday's concert, the first of two weekend performances from Krall at the Bowl, was no Carnival-tourist musical excursion or buffet sampler of sounds. It was instead the type of selective program that marks a well-traveled connoisseur eager to share her finds.
Converting jazz into a syntax of daily emotional life is one of Krall's career achievements. It was in character for her to introduce one tune by talking about driving a tour bus like Shirley Jones of the Partridge Family, with her 2-year-old twin sons in tow.
That song turned out to be a stunning version of "I've Grown Accustomed to His Face," in which Krall perfectly captured the gentle irony of the lyrics -- about the singer's understated amazement at finding contentment after swapping independence for cozy domesticity. Conductor Alan Broadbent coaxed a low, sustained hum from the strings that enveloped Krall's husky, ruminative vocals in a blanket of warmth.
Aided by the arrangements of Claus Ogerman, John Clayton and others, Krall and her impeccable trio -- Anthony Wilson, guitar; Robert Hurst, bass; and Jeff Hamilton, drums -- were as attentive to Lerner and Loewe as they were to Gilberto and Jobim.
Without flaunting the evening's Latin leitmotif, Krall honored it by investing the Sergio Mendes and Wanda de Sah song "So Nice (Summer Samba)" and her inevitable encore, "The Boy From Ipanema," with both a relaxed sway and a bluesy swing.
Most affecting of the Brazilian numbers was her rendition of Jobim's "Quiet Nights of Quiet Stars," as the tune frequently is known in English, or originally "Corcovado," so named after the famous Rio de Janeiro mountain. Purged of its spiritually ecstatic references to the towering Christ the Redeemer statue, the English version is simply a secular romantic ballad.
But Krall, again austerely backed by the Phil's string section, sounded not like a moony dreamer but like a woman who'd managed through love to step back from the brink of profound disillusionment, of viewing life as "a bitter, tragic joke." Underscoring her un- derstatement, she let the song simply wind down and fade out.
The set started off light with the crowd-saluting "I Love Being Here With You" and alternated between the frothy delights of Cole Porter's "Let's Do It, Let's Fall in Love" and the Nat King Cole-popularized "The Frim Fram Sauce," and the bolder stylistic experiments of "Cheek to Cheek."
Krall's nimble piano playing and Hamilton's multi-angled brushwork rendered that latter song as a kind of Cubist deconstruction of the Irving Berlin standard.
The evening began with conductor Benjamin Wallfisch, in his Hollywood Bowl debut, leading the Phil in a pair of familiar Latin American pieces, Arturo Marquez's "Conga del fuego nuevo" and "Danzon No. 2" (a signature number for incoming L.A. Phil music director Gustavo Dudamel).
These were followed by the effortlessly urbane Juan Tizol-Duke Ellington composition "Caravan" and Ernesto Lecuona's fandango-flavored "Malaguena," both arranged for orchestra by Morton Gould.
Wallfisch, an Englishman who has worked extensively in film-score conducting, kept his baton firmly on the music's Latin pulse, commanding the rhythms as he caressed the melodies.