Hong Kong International Jazz Festival, Days 7-8, October 1-2, 2011
The headliner for the evening was the Freddy Cole Quartet. A couple of weeks shy of 80 years of age, Colebrother of Nat King Colehas been quietly steering his own musical course for seven decades, playing the music he loves with little or no regard for fashion or trends. Cole's first hit was in 1952, and along with Tony Bennett and Jimmy Scott he represents the last in a line of jazz crooners. Whilst there were some natural similarities between Freddy Cole and his more famous elder sibling, Natnot least the set up of guitar and upright bassFreddy is more of an out and out jazz singer. His fluidity at the piano may have lessened with the years and his voice may have lost some of its power, but he remains an impeccable stylist with a wonderful sense of time, and vocal phrasing which has few peers.
Cole was lent excellent support throughout from his quartet members. Guitarist Randy Napoleonwho has been with Cole four yearspeppered the set with fluid, attacking solos which revealed the influence of guitarist Joe Pass. Bassist Elias Bailey has been with Cole six years and injected great swing into his tasteful playing. Drummer Curtis Boyd has played on and off with Cole since 1965 and the veteran time keeper was immaculate throughout the set. Boyd began his career in New York half a century ago with trumpeter Kenny Dorham and has since kept time for singers Carmen McRae, Helen Merrill, bassist Richard Davis, saxophonists Jimmy Heath and James Spaulding, and pianists Dr. Billy Taylor and Chick Corea. Although he has never recorded as a leader, he has, to paraphrase Jimmy Heath, walked with giants.
The majority of the set comprised standards from the Great American Songbook; "That's All," "I See Your Face Before Me," "How Little We Know," "Where Can I Go Without You?" and "It's Only a Paper Moon" were just a few of the more memorable numbers. Cole left his piano to sing and stood at the edge of the stage where he sang "Tender is the Night," with obvious reverence for the sentiment of the song. Once back at the piano, Cole led the quartet through singer/pianist Billy Joel's melodic ode to love, "Just the Way You Are."
A hugely swinging version of "Send for Me" had some of the swagger of singer/pianist Fats Domino, and pianist/composer Jelly Roll Morton's 1924 composition "Jelly Roll Blues," which closed a wonderful set, also had tremendous vitality in the hands of this quartet. The Hong Kong audience was completely seduced by Freddy Cole and his quartet, which was a pleasing reminder that old school vocal jazz is never out of fashion.
The final day of the Hong Kong International Jazz Festival featured some great performances, but unfortunately the weather wasn't kind, and a persistent light rain meant that the crowd was a small one throughout the day. But the question remains, what on earth was going on in Hong Kong that was more appealing than a day of quality international live music, drizzle or no drizzle?
Anyone winning music prizes in Norway these days must be up to something good. Guitarist Bjorn Solli won the "Young Norwegian Jazz Musician of the Year" in 2002, and has since relocated to New York. There, Solli has collaborated with the likes of saxophonists Jaleel Shaw and Marcus Strickland, pianist Orrin Evans, drummer Kendrick Scott, trumpeter Mat Penman, trombonist Ingrid Jensen and bassist Adam Cruz.
The fifteen minute opener, "Waltz for Lyder" offered ample demonstration of Solli's considerable chops and his compositional skills. His unaccompanied introduction mined a blues vein, buoyed by Steinar Nikelsen's bubbling Nord C3 organ and Australian drummer Nick McBride's propulsive rhythms. On an extended solo, Solli exhibited plenty of bite and invention. "Happy Accidents" forged a simple, upbeat groove and allowed plenty of soling space for guitarist and organist. The crowd may have been small, but it was appreciative of the full-hearted performance from this trio. This was Solli's third tour to China and he seemed to feel right at home playing here.
A fast-paced version of the standard, "Without a Song" and an original composition, "Fresh Fruit," featured more evidence of Solli's ability to really burn it up while maintaining a strong melodic sense. McBride's solo, too, earned warm applause. The Bjorn Solli Trio's set was technically impressive and emotionally engaging, and it got the day off to a great start.