Like too many a jazz singer, young Alexis Cole is, three albums into what deservedly should be a high-profile career, far better known, and respected, in Japan than in the United States. The native New Yorker is blessed with a deep contralto as smooth and dark as the richest espresso (with a dash of nicely-tempered, Patty Waters-esque wail added for good measure). Here, backed only by gentle strings—Ron Affif on guitar and Jeffrey Eckels on bass (with guitarist Saul Rubin and bassist Jon Roche substituting on two tracks recorded back in 2003)—her wide-ranging expressiveness and sunny demeanor are given plenty of space to stretch out.
It’s not easy to add anything startlingly new to “Over the Rainbow” or “Sweet Lorraine” or “God Bless the Child,” all so strongly associated with the superstars who introduced them, but Cole manages to make each welcomingly distinctive. Refreshing, too, are her takes on “Body and Soul,” interpreted in the somewhat desperate style of such boozy anthems as “Something Cool” and “Waiter, Make Mine Blues,” and a “Gee, Baby, Ain’t I Good to You” that sounds as if it is being transmitted directly from a boudoir trimmed in black lace. Best, though, is the blend of childlike hurt and adult heartache she brings to the title track, Antonio Carlos Jobim’s gray-clouded tale of shattered romance.