Record Review - 2 July 01 2004

Marrying Elvis Costello did more for sophisticated jazz pianist/vocalist Diana Krall than add to her hipster appeal; it also provided Krall a co-writer and sympathetic ear. On her first studio album since becoming Mrs. C., Krall wisely jettisons the syrupy strings that nearly derailed 2001’s The Look of Love, preferring stripped-down arrangements that better enhance her stylish, often sexy singing and intricate keyboard work.

Certainly Krall’s choice in covers has taken a refreshing turn away from the musty standards she has successfully reinvented. Cole Porter, George Gershwin, Harold Arlen and Billy Joel get nudged aside for the more edgy Tom Waits (“Temptation”), Mose Allison (a bluesy “Stop the World”) and, yes, Mr. Costello (a beautifully muted “Almost Blue”). Krall digs deep into the Joni Mitchell catalog, pulling out the ambitious, lyrically bleak “Black Crow,” and sounds positively raunchy on Chris Smithers’ “Love Me Like a Man.” Taking cues (and probably notes on publishing revenues) from Norah Jones, Krall has co-written a full half of these songs — her first originals ever — with Costello as primary lyricist. Although the ex-punker’s words can get, well, wordy, he generally restrains himself. “Abandoned Masquerade” and the title track infuse sly, often noir words into Krall’s music, perfectly framing her husky vocals and sparse piano technique.

It’s a brave move for a traditional jazz artist, as likely to introduce her to a younger, more daring audience as it is to potentially alienate the one she has. But that’s the difference between an entertainer and an artist. With this album, Krall establishes herself as the latter.

Diana Krall plays Chastain Park Thurs., July 8, 8 p.m. $37.50-$65.50.