Richie Cole: Then & Now

C. Michael Bailey By

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Saxophonist Richie Cole perfected the art of turning all tunes, no matter their origin, into be-bop, thus perfecting what Charlie Parker started when he launched into his now famous recording of "Embraceable You. Two simultaneously released albums, recorded twenty three years apart, show off Cole's talents to powerful effect.

Richie Cole and Art Pepper
Richie Cole Meets Art Pepper: A Piece Of Jazz History
Jazz Excursion

Originally released on Palo Alto under the title Return To Alto Acres, Richie Cole Meets Art Pepper returns to availability a significant album, recorded late in Pepper's life, when he was at the height of his powers. The recording session took place in February 1982, just five months before Pepper's premature death from a stroke aged 57. The meeting with Richie Cole was a High Church of Be-Bop event. Cole not only played his signature alto saxophone, but tenor and baritone too. Pepper, for his part, brought his excellent clarinet to the party.

The disc opens with Cole's "Return To Alto Acres, unexpectedly featuring his baritone coupled with Pepper's clarinet. The head is fast bop over an "I've Got Rhythm structure. Pepper is inspired and serpentine, Cole throaty and full-bodied. "Things We Did Last Summer highlights Cole's ballad playing, while "Art's Opus #2 and "Palo Alto Blues show Pepper off in style. Richie Cole Meets Art Pepper... is a most welcome return to the catalogs of both musicians.

Richie Cole and The Alto Madness Orchestra
Back On Top
Jazz Excursion

Over two decades later, Back on Top is Cole's most recent recording. The disc features his unique "little big band, the Alto Madness Orchestra. Cole has spent years experimenting with different-sized orchestras, before finally arriving at a septet comprised of tenor and alto saxophones, trumpet, trombone, and a guitar-based rhythm section. Cole reasoned that this was as big a band as he could write for, and as small a band as he could achieve a big band sound with.

Back on Top is a be-bop delight. Cole's writing and arranging are bright and sharp, his melodies complex and catchy, and his alto densely shining. He opens the disc with "Remembering Oliver Nelson, a piece written much in the style of the late Nelson, who was deft at composing both jazz masterpieces (Blues And The Abstract Truth) and pop culture iconography (soundtracks to Ironsides and Six-Million Dollar Man). "Jazz Excursion demonstrates Cole's aggressive approach to his axe and its surrounding arrangement. Tenor player Billy Ross turns in an angular solo for several choruses before trading off to Cole.

Although populated with Cole originals, Back on Top bears a smart resemblance to Marty Paich's medium-sized band arrangements of the late 1950s (Art Pepper + Eleven and Broadway). The instrumentation is at once efficient and full, and employed to its full capacity. Cole doesn't restrict himself to bop. He makes the little big band swing with the swing of Basie. One can almost hear Thad Jones in Nathan Eklund, or Al Grey in Rick Stepton, on "Uncle Freddy.

It's great to have Richie Cole firmly back in the recording fold. Let's hope that we hear much more from the Alto Madness Orchestra.

Tracks and Personnel

Richie Cole Meets Art Pepper: A Piece Of Jazz History

Tracks: Return To Alto Acres; Things We Did Last Summer; Art's Opus #2; A & R; Palo Alto Blues; Broadway; Art's Opus #2 (Alternate Take).

Personnel: Richie Cole: alto, tenor and baritone saxophones; Art Pepper: alto saxophone and clarinet; Roger Kellaway: piano; Bob Magnusson: bass; Billy Higgins: drums.

Back On Top

Tracks: Remembering Oliver Nelson; Jazz Excursion; A Walk In The Park; Uncle Freddy; Home Town; Don't Misunderstand; Back On Top; Relaxin' At The Candlelight; I Love Bebop; Portrait of Jenny.

Personnel: Richie Cole: alto saxophone; Billy Ross: tenor saxophone; Rick Stepton: trombone; Nathan Eklund: trumpet; Andrei Riabov: guitar; Rick Crane: bass; Wayne Dunton: drums.


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