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The confluence of Freddy Cole's style with the appeal of Brazilian music seems such a natural that one wonders why it didn't happen before. But the confluence finally does happen on Rio de Janeiro Blue as Cole elucidates the connection between tunes from the American songbook and the emotional significance of Brazilian tunes.
That connection, basically, involves setting a mood and telling a story, thus using the foundation of musical fiction to reach conclusions about life's truths. Most often, those truths, as revealed by Freddy Cole, involve the subject of lovecertainly one of the more eternal truths. Throughout his growing discography from the last decade, when Freddy Cole hit his stride and garnered legions of admirers among both the critics and the public, he has consistently considered sometimes offbeat, usually detailed and always insightful verities about love.
The Brazilians, like Cole, perceive undertones and complexity in love, sometimes to the extent of expressing ambivalence or sadness. And so that mature and knowing perspective infuses the music on Rio de Janeiro Blue, whose title casts a more subdued light on the usual carnaval colors associated with Rio.
Recorded over three days, Cole's new album alternates his working quartet with a Latin-based septet performing arrangements by Arturo O'Farrill. Thus, the quartet performs the American standards like "I Concentrate On You" and "There I've Said It Again," and the O'Farrill-led group (or configurations thereof) energizes Brazilian tunes like "To Say Goodbye" and "Yellow Days."
The common element through all of the tracks is Freddy Cole's ability to delve into the meaning of a tune and put his listeners at ease, his voice summoning assurance and understanding. With his sure sense of timing, even as he anticipates the beat, Cole's decades-long experience as a singer has grown into a vocal fulfillment that has incrementally led to the realization that he's one of our leading jazz singers. On, for example, "To Say Goodbye," as Joe Beck's guitar flows in a flamenco style over the group's repetitive phrase, Cole knows precisely when to interject an "Oh" or a "Goodbye" for maximum emotional effect.
The basis for his unerring sense of time becomes evident when he accompanies himself on piano. His means of accenting phrases on "Something Happens To Me" is similar both when he sings and when he plays for a doubling of effect as the tune moves logically and affectingly to its conclusion. With an identifiable richness and a natural conversational style, Cole, it seems, can only be himself when he sings. And that vocal integrity makes his performances rewarding and believable.
The group accompanying Cole on the Latin numbers is a revelation, not only because of its cohesiveness, but also because of the eloquence of the musicians as they solo. Angel "Papo" Vazquez, in particular, adds yet another voice, but one without words, when he takes the lead with an understated authority. In addition, O'Farrill's work on piano is especially effective as he attains the accompanist's goal of enlivening a performance even as he remains in the background. Working with George Mraz on "Delirio," O'Farrill locks in to lay a foundation under Cole that glistens and swings.
One can't listen to Freddy Cole without understanding the meaning of the lyrics and the intent of the songwriter. The fact that he brings the same feeling to the Brazilian tunes of Rio de Janeiro Blue proves the universality of his talent.
Track Listing: Rio de Janeiro Blue, I Concentrate On You, Delirio, Invitation, Words Can't Describe, Wild Is Love, Yellow Days, Sem Voce, Something Happens To Me, There I've Said It Again, To Say Goodbye
Personnel: Freddy Cole, voice, piano; Eric Alexander, tenor sax; Lou Marini, flute; Michael Mossman, flugelhorn; Angel "Papo" Vazques, trombone; Arturo O'Farrill, piano, Fender Rhodes; Jerry Byrd, Joe Beck, guitar; Herman Burney, George Mraz, bass; Ruben Rodriguez, electric bass; Curtis Boyd, drums; Steve Berrios, drums, surdo, shaker, guiro, congas, bell
As a kid, my mom told me I'd like jazz. I thought she was nuts. Then I went to hear Cannonball Adderley (with Nat Adderley, George Duke, Walter Booker, Roy McCurdy and Airto) and everything changed. Yeah, mom knows best.