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MADELEINE BRAND, host:

Musician and writer David Was has been listening to a new album by a very popular jazz singer, and he has this review.

(Soundbite of music)

DAVID WAS: Diana Krall is the undisputed superstar of jazz-inflected singers in the last decade or so. And her new album on Verve, From This Moment On - mostly standards done with big-band arrangements - is a return to her usual M.O. after a wobbly excursion into singer-songwriter territory under the influence of her singer-songwriter husband, Elvis Costello.

(Soundbite of music)

Ms. DIANA KRALL (Singer): (Singing) How insensitive I must have seemed…

WAS: Krall took the jazz world by the horns back in the mid-‘90s when her cool, understated approach to singing combined with her femme-fatale looks and manner to make her the darling of audiences too young to remember names like Billie Holliday and Ella Fitzgerald. She was, of her generation, the closest in spirit to those august figures, even if her initial strength was as a pianist, not a vocalist.

(Soundbite of music)

WAS: In that sense, she can be likened to Chet Baker, the hard-living trumpeter who became similarly popular in the 1950s with his whispery vocals and restrained sense of swing. Both instrumentalists who added singing to their repertoire later, they make up for their modest technical gifts with a soft, breathy, sensual sound and persona.

Ms. KRALL: (Singing) You may as well surrender…

WAS: Her mesmeric presence is undeniable in person, but her approach to vocalizing in the studio strikes me as comparatively formal and tentative. She makes phrasing decisions on the fly as a proper improviser might, but she can't see or hear four bars ahead, as a more architecturally minded singer like Sarah Vaughan did.

(Soundbite of song, “It Could Happen to You”)

Ms. KRALL: (Singing) It could happen to you.

WAS: The opening track, It Could Happen to You, finds Krall stretching out pronouns and particles as if they merited special musical attention rather than making invention enhance expression, as instrumentalists like John Coltrane and Miles Davis did so eloquently.

(Soundbite of music)

WAS: In 1994, I witnessed a fledgling Ms. Krall recording a guest vocal on an album by alto saxophonist-arranger Benny Carter. At age 87, he easily had the most modern ears in the room, and took her to task for singing a phrase with a flatted fifth in it - kind of a cliché in the jazz idiom for many decades. Don't go to that note, he said to her tersely. That ain't hip any more. Everybody plays that note. Busted by an octogenarian for sticking too closely to the playbook. That must have been a shock.

(Soundbite of music)

Ms. KRALL: (Singing) And you can depend on me.

WAS: While Krall might not be the most supple swinger the jazz world has ever known, she instead has a tendency to place her notes before the beat like Sinatra sometimes did, though certainly not with the same throwaway playfulness that made Frank's approach to song sound effortless and casual, though deceptively so. By comparison, Diana Krall is guilty as charged: possession of an illegal quantity of premeditation and forethought while singing jazz.

(Soundbite of music)

BRAND: Musician David Was. If you want to make up your own mind, several tracks from Diana Krall's new album, From This Moment On, are at our Web site npr.org.

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