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A touch of Christmas elegance
on 9 December 2005
The elegant, silken voice and piano playing of Diana Krall have been with us now for ten years, so I suppose we were overdue this album of Christmas standards.
Long term fans like myself, who were a little uncomfortable with her last two studio albums, will be relieved to discover that she has banished both the over-lush orchestral arrangements and her husband's eclectic but tuneless involvement this time. Further than that, she has resisted the usual temptation to include any new or self-penned songs, so that the old chestnuts are allowed to roast nicely on their own.
Musical backing on seven of the songs, the more uptempo ones, comes from the Clayton/Hamilton Jazz Orchestra. The sound they produce is just short of full big band jazz, and they give a smooth, rounded accompaniment to the likes of opener Jingle Bells, Let It Snow and Winter Wonderland. Diana's singing is polished and elegant as ever, but her ad-libs and occasional lapsing into scat mean that the shadows, if not the ghosts, of Ella, and Dino, and Sinatra fly a little too close for comfort.
For me the slower numbers work better, with the traditional jazz quartet instrumentation. The Christmas Song and I'll Be Home For Christmas are just the right side of dreamy and Diana makes them her own (not once did Nat Cole come to mind). White Christmas is turned into a slow, smoochy dance, as near to a waltz as the tune will allow, and it works beautifully.
Some of the slower numbers do have orchestral backing, and Johnny Mandel arranges and conducts three of them in his inimitable understated fashion - Christmas Time Is Here, Have Yourself a Merry... and Count Your Blessings. This last track isn't really a Christmas song, but it's a little gem, a lullaby from the pen of Irving Berlin and makes for an excellent closing to the album.
Throughout Diana's singing is as smooth and elegant as we have come to expect. The backings and production, courtesy of Tommy Lipuna, are also polished and just about perfect. If I was picky I would say that it is all just a bit too perfect and clinical - while it's probably a good thing that there's not even a whiff of snow or bells, jingling or otherwise, except in the lyrics, it does seem to lack a bit of colour or emotion. I don't know - maybe I was expecting too much.