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Most of this superb collection features Nat King Cole in the role that he knew first: jazz pianist with a small ensemble playing instrumental favorites with a creative swing. Recorded in Los Angeles between July 1942 and August 1947, the songs come from an expressive pianist who knows the true value of a few complementary partners on stage. He enjoyed his work as much as we enjoy listening to it. This was just slightly before the big split in jazz that created a tense bebop camp to stand in opposition to the traditionalists. Cole was neither a die-hard traditionalist nor a radical force in the new, dramatic wave. He just played good music the way everyone liked it. A guy like that has few enemies.
On this defining album we experience Cole, Benny Carter, Coleman Hawkins, Buster Bailey and Bill Coleman taking turns swinging the spotlight on "Riffamarole." Swing music reigns supreme. Buddy Rich and Lester Young join Cole for a creative interpretation of "I Found a New Baby" that includes an extensive drum solo with wire brushes. Willie Smith joins Cole, Red Callendar and Jackie Mills for a lovely, instrumental ballad interpretation of "The Way You Look Tonight" and an up-tempo burner (also instrumental) called "Airiness a la Nat." The latter finds all four cookin' with fire. Timeless vocal gems such as "Straighten Up and Fly Right," "Sweet Lorraine" and "Route 66" are featured here in excellent form with Oscar Moore and Johnny Miller. That was one fine trio. Their instrumental numbers exhibit some of the choices Cole was making at that time. As Brian Priestley offers in the liner notes, Cole and Moore "were interested in the more modern harmonies being used in the 1940s and their sprightly single-note lines also reflected some of the stylistic choices identified with bebop."
Folks will differ with the word definitive, used to describe the 14 albums Verve and Blue Note are releasing as a series. There's no doubt, however, that they do provide an excellent foundation and that these are memories we can enjoy forever.
Track Listing: Tea For Two; Straighten Up and Fly Right; Jumpin? at Capitol; Sweet
Lorraine; It?s Only a Paper Moon; Body and Soul; Riffamarole; Sweet
Georgia Brown; The Way You Look Tonight; Airiness a la Nat; (Get Your
Kicks On) Route 66; Lester Leaps In; I Found a New Baby; Honeysuckle
Rose; Too Marvelous for Words.
Personnel: Nat King Cole- piano, vocal; Oscar Moore- guitar; Johnny Miller, Red
Callendar, John Kirby- bass; Max Roach, Jackie Mills, Buddy Rich- drums;
Bill Coleman- trumpet; Buster Bailey- clarinet; Benny Carter, Willie Smith-
alto saxophone; Coleman Hawkins, Lester Young- tenor saxophone.