With the Clayton-Hamilton Jazz Orchestra roaring and grooving behind her, Diana Krall returned to the Hollywood Bowl Friday night after being away for awhile. Krall and Bowl audiences became fast friends long ago; her repertoire of standards went down well with the affluent, picnicking weekend crowds that dote upon good old familiar tunes. While Krall is still not the type of extroverted performer who projects out to these vast spaces, she tries to draw the thousands into her space — and like the late Shirley Horn, she continues to pull it off with taste and fine musicianship.
Krall’s recent marriage to rocker Elvis Costello resulted in the birth of twins and a swerve toward their own contemporary material on her CD, “The Girl In The Other Room” (a best-of CD is due Sep. 18 from Verve). Yet except for three numbers late in the set – a moody solo rendition of Joni Mitchell’s fascinating “A Case Of You,” Fats Domino’s “I’m Walkin'” for swinging big band, and the Bee Gees’ “How Can You Mend A Broken Heart” — Krall relied upon the Frank Sinatra/Nat Cole vehicles and other pop chestnuts that originally brung her here.
Krall started out her set singing in front of the CHJO — and while she seems more assured than ever in such an exposed spot (one remembers her touching awkwardness when she first hit it big in the late-1990s), she moved back to her natural habitat behind the Steinway on her fourth number (“How Insensitive”) and didn’t budge from there.
She remains most comfortable in the small-combo format that she adopted two numbers later, with the focus more on her mainstream jazz piano licks than her closely-miked, slightly grainy-textured vocals. With longtime collaborator John Clayton moving from in front of the band into the bass slot, the CHJO’s Jeff Hamilton on drums, and her regular guitarist Anthony Wilson contributing tasty Oscar Moore-flavored solos, Krall couldn’t have asked for more sympathetic rhythm partners.
Sometimes the ballads would drag at creeping tempos – a lugubrious bossa-nova treatment of “I’ve Got You Under My Skin” was pitched a bit too low for Krall’s voice. Yet her piano work was always alive, quote-filled and sophisticated, especially on the frantically-paced “`Deed I Do.”The evening began prosaically as Los Angeles Philharmonic assistant conductor Joana Carneiro led the Phil through a rhythmically square performance of Bernstein’s “Times Square, 1944,” Morton Gould’s exotic chart of “Caravan,” and Robert Farnon’s unremarkable easy-listening suite of tunes from “Porgy And Bess.” (with so many superior “Porgy” suites out there, why this one?). The CHJO should have been given an opening set of its own instead.