Hilary Kole: You Are There (2010)
Vocalist Hilary Kole is more than a mere interpreter of songs. Like the great singers who came before her, Kole is a master storyteller who merges cabaret sensibilities, jazz vocal craft and a slight hint of folk charm into one appealing package. She possesses a voice that could fit naturally on a Broadway stage or in a swanky jazz club, and she puts it to good use on this all-standards affair.
Kole sticks to the softer side of the jazz canon, interpreting thirteen ballad gems with eleven different pianists of note. Had she only been able to get one of these master craftsmenlike Hank Jones or Dave Brubeckthe project would likely have drawn interest from the jazz listening public, but with a roster of ivory ticklers that's as deep as the ocean, she ups the interest quotient considerably.
Each pianist merges with Kole in a different, wondrous way, bringing a little bit of themselves into the songs. Hank Jones largely takes a back seat to Kole, befitting a pianist who spent many a year supporting singers, but his playing on "But Beautiful" is all class and charm. Kole brings an overwrought sense of drama to Michel Legrand's "How Do You Keep the Music Playing?," as the composer also magnifies the intense emotional outpouring on piano. Mike Renzi provides rippling tides of sound on "I Remember," and Kole's vocals are as lovely as a clear blue sky.
While the aforementioned differences from track to track might not pop up on everybody's radar, there are other things to help make certain songs stick out. Freddy Cole adds his vocals to the mix on "It's Always You," while Benny Green brings more of himself into his performance, perhaps, than anyone else, with some bluesy licks and a bit of honky tonk machismo taking "Softly, As A Morning Sunrise" to a different place. Kenny Barron's superb playing ups the ante on "Lush Life," and Kole proves up to the challenge, delivering a jewel of a performance. When Barron solos, he takes the music in a different direction, with his staccato left hand playing against his running right. Other highlights include Alan Broadbent's masterful shaping of the title track, and Kole's two meetings with Brubeck.
If people are truly measured by the company they keep, then Kole deserves all the accolades in the world for You Are There; fortunately, she does just as well when measured on her own merits throughout this captivating set.
Track Listing: If I Had You; Every Time We Say Goodbye; It's Always You; Lush Life; These Foolish Things; I Remember; How Do You Keep the Music Playing?; But Beautiful; Softly, As In a Morning Sunrise; Strange Meadowlark; You Are There; Two For the Road; All the Way.
Personnel: Hilary Kole: vocals; Hank Jones: piano (1, 8); Cedar Walton: piano (2); Kenny Barron: piano (4); Dave Brubeck: piano (5, 10); Alan Broadbent: piano (11); Freddy Cole: vocals and piano (3); Benny Green: piano (9); Steve Kuhn: piano (12); Michel Legrand: piano (7); Mike Renzi: piano (6); Monty Alexander: piano (13).