Down Beat magazine has a regular feature in which a variety of jazz musicians are posed the same question. In a recent issue, the question was (to paraphrase) "How will Diana Krall's marriage to Elvis Costello affect her music?"
Jeez, you'd think Wynton Marsalis was running off with Liz Phair, fer cryin' out loud. The true answer is contained within The Girl in the Other Room, Krall's first album since her marriage, wherein six songs are co-written with Costello. The hardcore jazz snobs -- I mean, purists -- needn't have worried. Her style is essentially unchanged and most definitely not "compromised" by his dreaded nonjazz proclivities. Krall retains her smoky-voiced, sensuous delivery and her hauntingly spare approach to the piano, but this time out she is applying it to a very personal set of songs, a program transcending the usual tried-and-true (and done-to-death) Great American Songbook standards.
The album kicks off with Mose Allison's funky (in the very old-school, Memphis-in-the-'50s sense) "Stop This World," where Krall's voice, bobbing and weaving like a boxer going ten rounds with Life Itself, is rich with the laconic, ironic, world-weary blues. The title song, the first of this set's Costello collaborations, spins a melancholy tale of love gone wrong with the same attention to (emotional) detail as anything by George & Ira Gershwin (or Costello on his recent North), putting the listener into the room with the protagonist, set to a sparse, elegant near-waltz. Elsewhere, Krall puts her own assertive, sly stamp on Chris Smither/Bonnie Raitt's shut-up-and-put-out "Love Me Like a Man," while Tom Waits' "Temptation" becomes a sultry, bluesy tango.
The closer, "Departure Bay," is a gospel-tinged ode to Krall's late mother, where bereavement gives way to acceptance and wistful, appreciative reflection. Sometimes harrowing, occasionally playful, and always engaging, Other Room is a gem that reminds us that jazz once was "pop" music, and frequently can be again.