Sort-of-local chanteuse Norah Jones has been getting flak lately for the smoothness of her Come Away With Me, the seamlessness with which she synthesizes the blues, pop, folk and jazz stuff she hears in her head. It's an argument that's as understandable as it is frustrating: Come Away With Me is such a lovely listen, you only realize after it's over that Jones is probably capable of more challenging music, a deeper reading of her influences and an approach that adds more to the canon (you know, like longer piano solos).
Diana Krall, once revered for her serious vocal jazz work, has earned similar complaints with her last two records, 1998's When I Look in Your Eyes and last year's The Look of Love, both of which have found their way to a sizable audience outside the relatively limited jazz market. Which on one hand sounds like the bitter whining of a bunch of crotchety purists: The Look of Love is a gorgeous silk slip of a record, a cool drink of minimal guitar, muted bossa nova sway, luxurious string arrangements and Krall's deceptively husky voice; her "Love Letters" is a study in the slow burn of romance between two adults.
But what if you don't think of vocal jazz as necessarily tantamount to easy listening, however stylish or sexy? It's easier then to think of Krall as a peer of, say, Moby's--a very public face to a somewhat rarefied body of musicians, not all of whom appreciate the reduction of their craft to the heartwarming, easy-on-the-ears comfort music Moby and Krall proffer with such panache. Change the specifics to an underground rock band slickening up its sound to mall-record-store dimensions and the situation is even more familiar. Of course, Krall's streamlining of the torch song bothers me a whole lot less than a nation of garage bands striving to be the next Apex Theory, so I'll take the forced look of love over the forced look of teen-age disillusionment any day of the week, authenticity be damned.
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