More than a decade ago, Diana Krall made her Gotham cabaret debut fronting a trio in the intimate Oak Room. This week the Grammy-winning jazz baby returned to Carnegie Hall for a two-show turn backed by the luxury of a 40-plus piece orchestra to celebrate the release of her Verve CD “Quiet Nights.” Just when the fine art of jazz singing seems doomed, Krall’s cool, understated presence and poise mark her as the keeper of the flame.Krall’s own feathery piano accompaniment reflects the inspiration of Nat “King” Cole, who in his trio days could make “Exactly Like You” a swinging testament to cocktail jazz. She also has a fondness for the old movie tunes, prompting a rare recall of Victor Young’s “Love Letters,” which pays homage to the lost art of ardent correspondence. Krall’s voice boasts decided allure, occasionally accented by a raspy little infectious purr in her throat. At her most seductive, Krall turns the Rodgers and Hart query “Where or When” into a sultry search party, and with a poetically pure sense of discovery, she makes “I’ve Grown Accustomed to His Face” a personal romantic revelation. In the spacious concert hall, Krall still manages to summon an intimacy that leaves listeners breathlessly involved in the romantic narrative. Krall’s piano accompaniment boasts an effortless sense of swing and swagger. From her rhythmic new bossa-flavored CD she offered a lithe reading of Antonio Carlos Jobim’s title track “Quiet Nights.” As the orchestra sat one out, the stately blond diva revealed the smoky grandeur that defines the classic cabaret singer with “P. S. I Love You,” the haunting Gordon Jenkins-Johnny Mercer love letter that conveys loneliness and longing with measured heartbreak. Krall’s storytelling gifts were never more poignantly evident. For an encore Krall bid adieu with the torch singer’s most telling farewell, Cole Porter’s “Ev’ry Time We Say Goodbye.” The singer’s comments between songs were brief, with only a casual mention of a White House performance, her 2-year-old twin boys and husband Elvis Costello. Conducted with nuance and grace by Alan Broadbent, the orchestra lays a lush, cradling carpet of warmth, never intruding on the mood Krall so deftly and effortlessly creates.
Carnegie Hall; 2,804 seats; $150 top
Produced by George Wein. Conductor, Alan Broadbent. Musicians: Jeff Hamilton, Robert Hurst, Anthony Wilson. Opened, reviewed June 23, 2009.