St. Peter's Church
New York, NY
December 04, 2009
Backed by a seven-piece band, vocalist Alexis Cole took the stage for the New York release concert of her latest CD, The Greatest Gift (Motema Music, 2009), with an inspired version of "Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas." She gave lots of space for the group (Mark Tonelli, guitar; Brandon Nelson, bass; Scott Drewes, drums; Xavier Perez, sax; Vito Speranza, trumpet; and Dan Pierce, trombone) to freely improvise around the melody. She then invited her father, pianist Mark Finkin, to join her for a New Orleans-influenced take on "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen," which set the tone for the rest of the evening.
This was clearly not going to be an ordinary selection of holiday songs, for Cole clearly had more than a few surprises in store. This was further evidenced with a more Latin-tinged arrangement of "Hark! The Herald Angels Sing" that gave plenty of opportunities for the brass to exchange a few well-placed licks. The band took a break as 10-year-old cellist Sebastian Stoger DeMayo to play a well-received classical piece.
The band returned with a piano-centered piece, and then Cole came back with a cool take on "Christmas Time is Here" that had touches of bossa nova. Finkin once again then took the keys for a very complex original piece that had touches of John Coltrane-era post-bop mixed with some contemporary grooves.
A youngsters' choir joined Cole and the band for a blend of two separate songsone which the vocalist explained was inspired by the World War I Christmas truce in 1914. Unfortunately, due to the acoustics of the room, one couldn't quite hear all the voices in the group, as they were mostly drowned out by the male singers and the other musicians; it was enjoyable nevertheless. The concert came to a close with a personal rendition of "Silent Night" that was filled with dissonant notes that led to a few improvisational moments and an original Finkin tune that had more of a boogie feel.
Both on disc and on in live format, Alexis Cole tends to have a more unconventional approach toward her songs. Her concerts have a laid-back feel, which puts the audience immediately at ease. That was precisely what happened at St. Peter's church, as Cole made it feel more of like a friends and family affair that turned out to be a great way to kick off the holiday season.