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Krall pays tribute to 1920s, ’30s tunes, with some liberties

It’s fitting that Diana Krall played her rescheduled show at UB’s Center for the Arts only a few days after the annual Record Store Day celebration. That day is earmarked as a party for folks who can cite the effect that certain LPs have had on their lives. It is, in effect, a day to honor the power of musical recordings as profound artifacts, the audio equivalent of a revered novel or honored collection of poems.

For Krall, who brought her band to town to honor the show she had to cancel because of illness in late February, the current “Glad Rag Doll Tour” is a vehicle for her to pay homage to the records – 78s, in this instance – that she heard as a child and purloined from her father in order to pass them on.

Krall is known largely for her ability to translate Great American Songbook tunes into 21st century terms, and as a songwriter of significant merit. She has had mainstream success, selling more than 6 million albums in the process and, in some instances, earning undue derision from the gatekeepers of jazz credibility. That’s not at all – Krall is a serious pianist and a nuanced, emotive singer, and she’s proven her jazz chops more than often enough to silence the naysayers.

Onward, then. Krall took a chance by fully immersing herself in the tunes of the 1920s and ’30s that so impressed her as a child. Whatever risk might have been involved certainly paid off.

These pre-bebop pieces exude an air of nostalgia, obviously, and it’s clear that they carry emotional resonance for Krall, whose love for them certainly suggests itself to be irony-free.

The stage set – which appeared as a combination era-specific movie theater and a classy burlesque show, with silent films scrolling on a large screen throughout the show – acted as a homage to that period of time. But Krall and her band were playing these songs in the here and now, and though all involved were clearly well-versed in the idiom, liberties were often taken, and they helped to make the music live and breathe in the present tense. Every player on the stage – Krall, upright bassist Dennis Crouch, drummer Karriem Riggins, fiddle/guitar/banjo player Stuart Duncan, guitarist Aram Bajakian and keyboardist Patrick Warren – brought something of their personalities to the performance, their individual virtuosity smartly employed in service to the greater ensemble whole.

Krall is clearly enthralled with the music of Fats Waller and Nat King Cole, and she played songs associated with both throughout the evening. That she could butt such tunes up against a killer version of Tom Waits’ “Temptation” and in the process suggest a continuum of brilliant American songwriting was a testament to her musical eloquence.

“Temptation” was a centerpiece of the set, in fact, as Duncan plucked pizzicato notes on his amplified, distorted fiddle, lending an air of the avant garde to the proceedings and ably setting up guitarist Bajakian, who sounded an awful lot like Waits’ guitarist Marc Ribot during his inspired solo.

Krall had no trouble inhabiting Waits’ narrator in female form, bringing a subdued sensuality to the table and punctuating her breathy vocal with subtle chord clusters on the piano.

During “Everything’s Made For Love,” Duncan grabbed a ukulele, while the rest of the band gradually fell in around him to provide a lilting but fully fleshed arrangement. Krall took a midshow solo turn at the upright piano, performing a sexy “Peel Me a Grape” and a heartbreaking “Glad Rag Doll” on her own. She prefaced most of the evening’s tunes with charming, witty and seemingly off-the-cuff remarks tracing the outline of her love affair with the songs in question. It would have been tough not to love her, so disarmingly charismatic was her interaction with the audience.

A take on Nat King Cole’s “Straighten Up and Fly Right” led into Waller’s “Your Feet’s Too Big,” with Krall offering some serious stride piano in the latter. The band fell back in behind her in time for Buddy and Julie Miller’s transcendent “Wide River To Cross,” and again, Krall proved her ability to provide a sense of continuity between songs from significantly different eras.

An encore of Jimmie Rodgers’ “Prairie Lullaby,” which Krall dedicated to her husband Elvis Costello and their children, offered a warm and lovely farewell. The packed house offered Krall and her musicians a standing ovation. And then their beautiful burlesque took to the road once more.