Alexis Cole is an excellent singer, an opinion endorsed by recent high-profile gigs at Carnegie Hall, Birdland, Jazz at Lincoln Center and with the Boston Pops and Detroit Symphony Orchestra. Even so, she is nearly upstaged on Sky Blossom by Scott Arcangel's superlative arrangements (plus one each by Chris Walden and Mike Reifenberg) and the marvelous big band(s) lending their support. The Tour of Duty earmarked in the album's title refers to Cole's seven- year assignment (2009-15) as vocalist with the West Point Jazz Knights, during which she had a chance to sing every song on the album.
It's a dream setting for any vocalist, and Cole more than holds her own in a program that consists of two standards by the Gershwin brothers ("How Long Has This Been Going On," "Our Love Is Here to Stay"); jazz gems by Clifford Brown, Miles Davis, Thelonious Monk/Jon Hendricks and Hendricks/Gigi Gryce; popular themes by Billy Joel, Anthony Newley/Leslie Bricusse and John Lennon/Paul McCartney, and a pair of Latin anthems by Antonio Carlos Jobim and Bruno Brighetti, closing with Gene Scheer's inspiring "American Anthem." Cole's voice is splendid, a pleasing contralto complemented by clear diction, spot-on pitch and timing, an unerring sense of swing, abiding respect for a lyric and enough power to outmaneuver a big band.
While that alone could be enough to raise Sky Blossom above the norm, Cole reaps the benefit of those wonderful charts and spirited blowing from her supporting cast. Conductor/trumpeter Jeff Jarvis, guitarist Paul Meyers and bassist David Finck solo sharply on three numbers apiece, saxophonist Bob Sheppard and pianist Derrick James on two, with strong statements by Arcangel on "Social Call," trumpeter John Castleman on "Joy Spring," pianist Alex Flavell and tenor saxophonist Nathan King on the groovy "Our Love Is Here to Stay." Brown's "Joy Spring" raises the curtain with high-octane energy, as Cole sprints to keep pace, before "Pure Imagination," "How Long Has This Been Going On," "All Blues" and "Estate" reduce the tempo but not the earnestness. Lennon/McCartney's "Across the Universe" is next up, followed by Jobim's "Triste" and Monk's "How I Wish" (actually, "Ask Me Now" under a new name). Gryce's "Social Call," Joel's "New York State of Mind" and "Our Love Is Here to Stay" lead to the moving "American Anthem," a duet by Cole and Flavell.
Even though she's not yet a household name, Cole is already recognized by many of her peers as one of the foremost jazz singers on the scene. As Kevin Jones writes in Australia's Fine Music, "The search for the next great jazz singer is over." Perhaps a tad too soon for such a panoramic decree, yet not that far from the mark.
Joy Spring; Pure Imagination; How Long Has This Been Going On; All Blues; Estate; Across
the Universe; Triste; How I Wish; Social Call; New York State of Mind; Our Love Is Here to
Stay; American Anthem.
Andrew Solares: trumpet; Stephen Wood, Erik Larsen, Nathan King, Tanner Olivas, Chris
Cockrell: saxophone; Phineas Crisp, Ken Eernisse, Anna Menotti, Bobby Burton:
trombone; Brandon Johnson: guitar; Pablo Munoz-Snyder, Nick Mancini: vibraphone; Alex
Flavell: piano; Max Myrick: bass; Tyler Kreutel: drums; Jeff Haynes: percussion. Tracks 1, 8
—John Castleman, Vito Speranza, Josh Economy, Rich Johnson: trumpet; Mike Reifenberg,
Derrick James, David Loy Song, Jay Malone, Xavier Perez: saxophone; Dan Pierce, Ron
Fleischman, Jason Miller, Teddy Arnold: trombone; Mark Tonelli: guitar; Scott Arcangel:
piano; Brandon Nelson: bass; Scott Drewes: drums. Guest soloists—Bob Sheppard: tenor
saxophone (2, 8); Paul Meyers: guitar (5, 6, 9); Derrick James: piano (10); David Finck:
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