Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts
April 16, 2008
It was a pleasure to attend and review this double bill at the Kimmel Center with two most honored and respected musicians and their quartets: Freddy Cole and Dave Brubeck. Both groups gave their all, producing some exceptional music.
FREDDY COLE QUARTET
Freddy Cole, the brother of Nat King Cole, is a great vocalist in his own right, having experienced early on the presence of many great musicians, including Nat, Duke Ellington, Count Basie, and Lionel Hampton. Over the years, he has developed his own laid-back vocal style and a rich repertoire of standards as well as some great CDs, including one with Jimmy Scott which is a personal favorite.
Critics tend to downplay his similarity to brother Nat, despite an unmistakable resemblance in their vocal inflections and piano playing. Nevertheless, Freddy has undeniably developed his own unique style, and while he will remind you of many crooners, his is an immediately distinguishable voice. Freddy is Freddy, for which we can all be grateful. He is a consummate professional, and his interpretations are rich and memorable.
Cole and his group performed a fine mix of up-tempo swing tunes and introspective ballads, which included "I Remember You," "Something Happens to Me," "Please Don't Change Your Mind about Me," "I See Your Face Before Me," and two tunes from his new CD, Music, Maestro, Please: "If I Love Again" and "Why Did I Choose You?" Next came the Fred Astaire vehicle "The Continental (Beautiful Music, Dangerous Rhythm)," and from his CD Because of You, dedicated to Tony Bennett, "What Are You Afraid Of?" To close the set, he sang "Little Girl" in a swinging, up-tempo version, to which the quartet brought intense energy. The audience was demonstrably well pleased.
Cole's sidemenRandy Napoleon on guitar, Elias Bailey on bass, and Curtis Boyd on drumsdid an excellent job of backing Cole, each making the most of ample solo opportunities. Especially noteworthy was Napoleon's guitar work, echoing Barney Kessel in its sound and inflections.
Cole's singing puts the music ahead of his ego: unlike some of his peers, there's never a hint of a cult of personality. He brought out the meaning of each song with dedicated artistry. His humorous performance of "What Are You Afraid Of?" conveyed the implicit theme of a desperate guy trying to make it with a woman though this portrayal of a slick African-American man manipulating for love seemed to this reviewer, if not an overdone stereotype, an outdated one. It was not hard at all to have a preference for Cole's subtlety of expression and "right on" swing in the other songs.
Cole managed to evoke an intimate nightclub atmosphere, which is difficult to accomplish in a large concert hall venue. To the nostalgic-minded or true film buff, the image of Dooley Wilson as the pianist "Sam" in Casablanca singing "As Time Goes By" might readily have come to mind. Freddy Cole, too, is a perennial who stands in no one else's shadow, not even his brother Nat's.
DAVE BRUBECK QUARTET
I am sure that when Dave Brubeck dies and goes to heaven, they will have a piano waiting for him! He is truly an immortal. What a thrill to hear this man at the age of 88 playing with all the verve, ingenuity, and technique of the young lion that he was when I heard him in the late 1950s at Carnegie Hall with Paul Desmond, Gene Wright, and Joe Morello. With all the criticism that has sometimes been leveled against him by the jazz cognoscenti who wish he would put on blackface, Brubeck is a musical genius who has had a transformative influence on jazz that rivals that of a Louis Armstrong, Charlie Parker, and Duke Ellington. His particular impact has been threefold: opening jazz to broader influences, including "classical" ones; helping to establish the richness of expression in the so-called cool, or understated, "West Coast" sound; and expanding the rhythm and meter of the jazz idiom. The miracle is that he has continued to do so for over a half century, and this concert was full of interesting and novel ideas. Although physically a bit fragile in his gait, Brubeck still plays up a storm on the piano. And he keeps pushing the musical envelope. Moreover, his seasoned group goes on the journey with him. In their "own sweet way," they elevated the music to new heights of virtuosity, swing, and creativity.