Hittin' the Ramp: The Early Years (1936-1943) (Resonance Records, 2019) is a treasury of Nat King Cole's earliest recorded work, documenting his mastery of jazz piano and vocals long before he became a popular singing star. But at seven CDs or 10 LPs, it's a lot of music, perhaps too much for a casual or curious fan. This single disc "best of" compilation offers a generous selection of 21 tracks, most of them featuring Cole's famous trio with guitarist Oscar Moore and double bassist Wesley Prince or Johnny Miller. There is one bonus for owners of the box set: a previously unreleased track, a transcription version of "This Side Up," which was not included in the set.
The tracks average between two and three minutes apiece: even the longest falls short of four minutes. No fat here! "With Plenty of Money and You" and "Liza" open the album with two instrumentals, showing the trio at their swinging bestvery fast, but also relaxed, with space for solo turns for all three players. "There's No Anesthetic for Love" introduces vocals from the whole trio, as well as the humor that they could do so well. "Two Against One" is a lyrical instrumental with the added color of a celesta in addition to the piano.
"Sweet Lorraine" is a vocal feature, opening with a little sweet scat singing and featuring Moore's obbligato playing. Several other tracks feature upbeat vocals, such as "What'cha Know Joe," "Hit that Jive, Jack," and the title tune (all of them among the best known parts of the band's repertoire). "I'm Gonna Move to the Outskirts of Town" (live from the 331 Club) demonstrates the group's mastery of the blues, and "This Side Up" closes the album with another fine instrumental, a rousing boogie-woogie.
While not as wide-ranging as the box set, this compilation gives a fine picture of the core trio, well balanced between instrumentals and vocals. It is an absolute blast to listen to, with enough joy to raise even the lowest spirits. A timely release indeed.
With Plenty of Money and You; Liza; There's No Anesthetic for Love; Riffin' at the Bar-B-Q; Honey; Two Against One; Black Spider Stomp; Sweet Lorraine; Off the Beam; Early Morning Blues; Gone with the Draft; What'cha Know Joe; Blue Lou; Baby, Won’t You Please Come Home; Rosetta; Hit that Jive, Jack; I'm Gonna Move to the Outskirts of Town; Hip Hip Hooray; Slender, Tender, and Tall; Straighten Up and Fly Right; This Side Up.