Diana Krall is not much of a netizen (“I’m not a Facebook person, I don’t Twitter … I hardly even get on the computer other than to look up a recipe for what I’m going to cook for my kids.”), but she does love her YouTube.
“The fortunate thing about having insomnia is that you can listen to music all night and find your creative ways in the dark,” she explains over the phone from her apartment in Manhattan. “But the other thing is that, with the media being so instant, you can just type in anything and it will thread you into places that you didn’t even know existed. I mean, I found some footage of Vancouver in the 1920s, and it’s just unbelievable.”
Pulling the past into the present is essentially what Krall is doing with her current album and tour. Although Glad Rag Doll would seem, at first glance, to be an exercise in nostalgia – most of the songs were written in the 1920s, and the project was inspired by the 78s she used to listen to on her father’s gramophone – the execution is a perfect data-age mix of retro and modern.
On the one hand, the recording found her swapping her usual concert grand for a cranky, 90-year-old upright; on the other, her most frequent sparring partner on the album is Marc Ribot, whose heavily treated guitar blends with Krall’s piano like Jackson Pollack splatter across a Maxwell Parrish print.
It’s not as if Krall, who is married to Elvis Costello, is a stranger to the world of rock and pop. Indeed, the project preceding Glad Rag Doll was Paul McCartney’s standards collection Kisses on the Bottom, to which she contributed piano and rhythm arrangements.
But where that project had her bringing a classic jazz aesthetic into the rock world, her current band and live show, which she took to Europe last fall and will be bringing across Canada this month (the tour kicked off in her home town of Nanaimo, B.C. on Sunday), moves in the opposite direction. “Everything’s got a kind of grit,” she says, excitedly. “It’s a big mix of different sounds. It’s definitely not a trad band.”
Yes, she admits, there’s one point in the show where she has keyboardist Patrick Warren playing a pump organ, “which reminds me of my aunt playing organ in a church basement,” while bluegrass stalwart Stuart Duncan joins in on a Stroh violin (a century-old instrument that augments a violin neck with metal resonator and gramophone-style horn). But then there’s guitarist Aram Bajakian, who Krall describes as “more of a shredder,” and drummer Karriem Riggins, who since his last stint with Krall has been playing with R&B legend Maxwell.
“Throw in Stuart playing violin through a fuzz box,” she says, “and away we go.”
This isn’t the Diana Krall her fans are used to, and though she’s excited and energized by her new band and new direction, she’s also a bit apprehensive. “It is a risk,” she says. “You think, gosh, will people like it? But I do a bit where I let people do request time, and they scream out all sorts of things. Somebody screamed out an Elvis Presley tune for me once.” She laughs.
“But I’m used to that, because I started out playing in piano bars, eight hours a night. I had to play everything. And I wasn’t playing jazz – I was playing whatever weird pop music I could get away with. So I’ve always listened to Neil Young and Joni Mitchell.”
Indeed, she cites Young’s Live at Massey Hall 1971 as one of her all-time favourite recordings. “I listen to that constantly,” she says. “I mean, try working out A Man Needs a Maid for a few days. You might as well take on A Love Supreme. It’s so beautiful and moving, and if you were to sit down and dissect it, it doesn’t go where you think it’s going to go. ”
She’s also a huge fan of the Band, “the perfect, non-categorical, cannot-put-a-label-on-it music. To me,” she says, “the Band is as important as anything I heard. And it was difficult music, as well. I remember when I went to see Garth Hudson at the [now defunct Toronto club] Top of the Senator, and it was just wild.
“We’ve been playing a few tunes by the Band,” she adds, and hints that her new band’s repertoire also includes “an obscure Blondie tune” and some Bob Dylan.
“We have such long rehearsals,” she says, and laughs. “But it’s all cohesive. Somehow, it just works. We’re playing different kinds of songs that seem to work well with the 1920s stuff.”
Once again, it’s modern and old time mixing together, and the freedom she finds in this mélange is nothing short of exhilarating. “You can zig and you can zag and you can completely lose yourself in creative bliss,” she says. “I like to keep a lot of different experiences in front of me, because that keeps everything else fresh. You know? You do this, and when you go back to standards, then that feels different.”