There's the eternal question of what makes a jazz singer. (Well, it's not really eternal, but in jazz years, it might as well be.) Is a jazz singer one who adopts instrumental phrasing, even though many jazz musicians swear that they are trying to simulate the human voice in turn? Is a jazz singer one who abandons or inter-mixes lyrics? Is a jazz singer one who surrounds oneself with jazz musicians?
While certain vocalists like Nat Cole are accepted as a jazz singer as readily as a knee-jerk is expected in a doctor's office once the hammer hits the knee, others like Freddy Cole haven't yet been lionized, in spite of decades in the trenches. Well, in spite of decades in the clubs. Inevitably, Freddy Cole is compared to his brother, and I know that if I were Freddy, I'd be pretty dog-gone tired of that repetitive and mindless type of review. However, while the status of "jazz singer" is up for grabs, Cole does surround himself with supreme jazz musicians. In fact, on his first Telarc CD, Merry Go Round, after moving from the Fantasy label, Cole is accompanied by a larger group than before, with the upper brass being added by Soloff and the bass depth being added by Smulyan. The result is a cohesive sound complemented by Cedar Walton's arrangements.
Cole picks up right where he left off with Fantasy, though, his new CD consisting of songs chosen for the strength of their lyrics and for their romantic implications. In fact, Cole becomes positively Pollyanna-ish on "Take A Little Time To Smile, with its light little sermon like a children's song. Is it possible that Peggy Lee really sang this tune-the Peggy Lee of "Is That All There Is?" Cole even gushes on "If You Went Away" with an unblushing sincerity that lesser talents couldn't get away with. To wit: "If I would lose you/for one precious day/I think I would cry/the biggest teardrops/The whole wide world/has ever known. Has ever known. Has ever known." Has ever known. After plopping that tune in the middle of the CD, though, one doesn't even blink an eye, or cup an ear, the listener being inured to Cole's romanticism by that time.
Freddy Cole can sing a love song without breaking into a sweat. But is it jazz? Does it matter? Either you're with him or against him. And most people are with him. Why would anyone be against such a nice guy with such a positive message and related to such a legendary sibling? Cedar Walton holds back in deference to his friend, as does the rest of the band. Tenor man Eric Alexander, who has appeared on previous Freddy Cole CD's, finally emerges from the background on "It's Impossible," his commentary with Cole becoming as recognizable as Houston Person's with Etta Jones, their "voices" interwoven.
Finally, after brimming with suggestion, Alexander glides into a solo that extends Cole's thought in wordless fashion. "Merry Go Round," un-hyphenated as a CD title but hyphenated as the name of a song, doesn't change Freddie Cole a bit. Why fiddle with a good thing? But Merry Go Round does enlarge the nature of his arrangements as it extends his repertoire that everyone knows by now fits him like a glove.
Watching You, Watching Me; It's Impossible; Merry-Go-Round; I Remember You; Forgive My Heart; Through A Long And Sleepless Night; If You Went Away; Take A Little Time To Smile; I Realize Now/I Miss You So; Smoke Gets In Your Eyes; You're Sensational
Freddy Cole, vocals, piano; Cedar Walton, piano; George Mraz, Herman Burney, bass; Curtis Boyd, drums; Lew Soloff, trumpet; Lou Marini, alto sax, alto flute; Eric Alexander, tenor sax; Gary Smulyan, baritone sax; Steve Davis, trombone; Jerry Byrd, guitar
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