Friday, October 07, 2005

Diana Krall on DVD

You already have a DVD player, of course, for watching movies at home. But I suspect that there are some music enthusiasts who don't realize that the advent of DVD has taken music reproduction to a new level that opens up thrilling possibilities for enjoyment.

If you've concluded that video "in concert" recordings don't add much value to CDs, you're not alone. Most concert videos, as seen on conventional TV and on VHS tapes, promise more than they deliver. Sure, it's interesting to see the performers, but unless they have strong dramatic delivery (which few musicians, other than lead singers, do) the novelty wears off after about 10 minutes. Likewise, the switching of shots from full-stage to close-ups to left to right and back through the cycle wears thin pretty quickly. And the cutaway shots of the audience — gah! Who cares about seeing a bunch of goofs clapping in time (or not in time) with the beat?

But if you want to know what can be done using the full resources of the DVD medium, check out Diana Krall: Live in Paris. It's a recording made in 2001 at the Olympia in Paris. The disc's production values — not to mention the musicianship on display — are so thumping good as to make believers of skeptics.

Let's start with the sound. Depending on what playback equipment you have, you can listen in Dolby Digital stereo, Dolby Digital multichannel or DTS multichannel. If your receiver can handle DTS, go for that option, but I'm sure the Dolby sounds great too, and I imagine the basic stereo mixdown is fine. The high sampling rate for all these formats, and what was apparently shrewd microphone choice and placement, has resulted in a recording with brilliant "you-are-there" punch, transparency and smoothness.

I listened to the DTS layer through five channels (no subwoofer), and thought the sound engineering was exceptionally fine. Full use is made of the front and center channels, with just a deft touch of rear channel ambience. No gimmicks like surrounding you with instruments; you are, in recording terms, seated near the stage but not on it stretched across the piano or lashed to the drummer's kit.

The visuals are top grade. There's a lot of fast cutting, which can seem intrusive in many productions, but the editor here was clearly in tune with the performance. The camera angles and frames mean something. You see the musicians take genuine delight in one another's solos. A close-up of drummer Jeff Hamilton's hands as he reverses the brushes he's been using on the drum skin to their straight ends for tapping the cymbals gently. Diana's spike-heeled shoes as she nudges the piano pedals.

And what an amazing variety of viewpoints: tight close-ups of musicans as they play their instruments; close-ups of faces; medium shots of two or three players; full stage; even overhead angles from a balcony or crane. In fact, the panoply of camerawork you see in a feature film is used here (except tracking shots — no movement of the "actors" to track).

A recording can't replace being at a live concert. But this DVD does give you a kind of experience you couldn't get even at the concert hall, through its kaleidoscopic shifting of perspectives.

The lighting, which I expect the camera crew had a hand in as well as the stage manager and lighting director, brings out deep, rich colors. (My system includes a progressive-scan DVD player and HDTV, and this is a fine disc to demonstrate the virtues of both.)

I won't try to describe the performance. There are those who can bring music to life in words, but I'm not one of them. I'll simply say that this is sparkling mainstream jazz. The arrangements for most numbers include a fairly large orchestra (perhaps a concession to French audiences — they dote on that sort of thing). I'm not a fan of black-tie jazz arrangements, or black-tie anything. But while the orchestra doesn't add much, its backing and fills are tasteful and very professionally played.

And there's Diana Krall.

You know the voice, which a writer for The Wall Street Journal (Terry Teachout? Nat Hentoff?) compared to honey with a slug of Scotch. You also probably know she's a keyboard ace. But unless you've seen her in concert or on a DVD like this, you might find it hard to appreciate how she pulls it all together and adds personal magnetism into the bargain.

Another thing. Diana could surely have made a career for herself just sliding by on her innate talent, her Nordic beauty and a few crowd-pleasing stylistic tricks. But she's taken the steeper route, developing her talent to the point where she is accepted in the rarefied world of serious jazz musicians. It speaks well of her that she has chosen to surround herself, not with mediocrities against whom she could easily shine, but with first-class sidemen, both on her CDs and in this concert. (Here, notably, it's guitarist Anthony Williams, bassist John Clayton, and Jeff Hamilton, but all the group members mesh beautifully and contribute to the whole).

I salute Diana Krall: first, for her musicanship; second, for her character.

1 comment:

FreeThinker said...

I hear ya! DVD is awesome. I recently upgraded my home system. We've come a long way, audio-visually!