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Natalie Cole at the Bowl

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Natalie Cole at the Bowl: 'Healthy and whole and 100%'

You got the feeling Wednesday night that Natalie Cole couldnt have been happier to be pulling into the Hollywood Bowl nearly two months late for her gig.

I never thought Id be standing here healthy, whole and 100% again, the 59-year-old singer told the crowd, which cheered her return to the concert stage following a kidney transplant in May that prompted the postponement of her scheduled July 15 concert.

Her recovery -- guest gospel singer Kurt Carr called her a walking miracle when his 10-member choir joined her near the shows end -- made for a warmly emotional backdrop to a performance dominated by music drawn from the Great American Songbook. She tapped that trove anew last fall in Still Unforgettable, the successor to her multiple-Grammy-winning 1991 collection, Unforgettable With Love.

Backed by a big band plus the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra, conducted with snap by Still Unforgettable co-producer Gail Deadrick, Cole, looking dazzling in a strapless purple gown, reclaimed her birthright in tastefully arranged, masterfully sung pop standards such as “The Man That Got Away", “Come Rain or Come Shine," “Walkin My Baby Back Home" and “Smile."

A smart arrangement of “The Man That Got Away" downshifted from a blazing swing that let her show off her precise articulation to a half-tempo section in which she could more gently caress the songs melodic curves, then back to full speed and down once more.

She took equally great care with Nan Schwartzs Grammy-winning arrangement that recast “Heres That Rainy Day", distinguishing it from the signature Stan Kenton version. One of the key strengths of her outings in this field is her avoidance of the vocal acrobatics that mar so many pop and R&B singers attempts to sing jazz.

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