Music, Maestro, Please!
In 1961, Nat “King” Cole teamed with a quintet led by a pianist of splendiferous taste, style and sensitivity to create Nat King Cole Sings/George Shearing Plays, the finest, most enduring vocal album of Cole’s illustrious career. Now, 46 years later, Nat’s baby brother has followed suit, teaming not with Shearing but with a trio led by a contemporary pianist of equally sublime taste, style and sensitivity, the immensely gifted Bill Charlap. (Charlap’s superb trio-mates, bassist Peter Washington and drummer Kenny Washington, also appeared on Cole’s previous disc, last year’s Tony Bennett tribute Because of You.) Result: the single greatest Freddy Cole album to date.
Cole, who at age 76 has lost none of his vocal luster (nor any of the understated but distinct vocal similarity to his more famous big brother), lends his tender richness to a spectrum of well-chosen standards, including the too-seldom-heard gems “If I Love Again,” “I Never Had a Chance” and “I’ll Never Be the Same,” and the marvelous Johnny Mercer rarity “How Do You Say Auf Wiedersehn?” But Cole’s singing, and his ability (a family trait, it seems) to wring every ounce of emotion from a lyric without ever sounding false or forced, is truly no different here than on the dozen or so of his albums that preceded it. It is the softly powerful presence of Charlap (and company) that, like Shearing and company nearly a half-century earlier, elevates this Maestro from eminently listenable to essential.