Carla Cook at the Cinegrill

Jim Santella By

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Carla Cook, Nick Smith, Kenny Davis, Harvey Mason
Hollywood, CA
April 21, 2001

Built for the city's growing echelon of film stars in 1927, the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel has long been home to quality in entertainment with an emphasis on artist visibility. The hotel's Blossom Room housed the very first Academy Awards presentation when Oscars went out to Emil Jannings, Victor Fleming and Janet Gaynor. Its Cinegrill lounge draws upon this 74-year-old history by showcasing conservative entertainment with an emphasis on cabaret and vocal jazz. An adequate sound system makes it possible for the small audience to share an intimate evening in comfort.

Carla Cook's Saturday night appearance ended a five-day engagement during which she sang songs from her two albums. Pianist Nick Smith, bassist Kenny Davis and drummer Harvey Mason began the set with an extended, instrumental overview of "Alone Together." The program Cook presented consisted of the following:

"Until I Met You (Corner Pocket)" "The More I See You" "Oh Gee" "Where or When" "Hold to God's Unchanging Hand" "Inner City Blues"

The leader brought the musical arrangements with her; most are by Cyrus Chestnut, who appears on both of her albums. The band worked hard to read through each chart, and Cook offered visual cues to keep things rolling. But Lonnie Plaxico's arrangement of "Corner Pocket," with its interesting changes in direction, provided the most challenging workout of the evening. It was also the musical high point. A combination of her overt cues and confident demeanor revealed a vocal resemblance between Cook and Carmen McRae. Her rapport with the audience, while warm, intimate and sincere, lacked the kind of automatic eye contact that comes through experience. Ballads, such as "The More I See You," invite a strong resemblance to the style of Sarah Vaughan. Carla Cook uses her natural ability to personalize every moment. Her vocalese and scat singing invite comparisons to one of her strongest influences: Eddie Jefferson. While spinning these wordless vocal passages, Cook takes on the role of an instrumentalist. On "Where or When," she revealed a powerful Miles Davis influence while scat singing a solo that could just as well have been supplied by the soulful trumpeter. Kenny Davis, who appears on Cook's first album, It's All About Love (MAXJAZZ, 1999), switched to electric bass for the final number. Marvin Gaye's "Inner City Blues" had the audience jumpin' in their seats. The nature of the song, with its biting social commentary and easy to like R&B mood, makes it the perfect closer. Just out, Carla Cook's latest album is Dem Bones (MAXJAZZ, 2001).


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