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Alexis Cole & Bucky Pizzarelli: A Beautiful Friendship (Venus)

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The richness of Alexis Cole’s vocal gumbo is rather extraordinary, combining the warmth and clarity of Doris Day, the verve of Jo Stafford, the cool sophistication of Chris Connor and the authority of Keely Smith. It’s a heady mix, so much so that it can, much like Diane Schuur, often be overpowering. Across these 14 tracks, all standards, Cole is firmly front and center. Whether swinging through “If I Were a Bell,” “On the Street Where You Live” and “Stompin’ at the Savoy” or exploring the gentler folds of “Mood Indigo,” “These Foolish Things” and “Watch What Happens,” her interpretive sass and ingenuity are impressive.

Trouble is, Cole’s commanding presence throws what is intended to be a partnership with guitarist Bucky Pizzarelli off balance. Nor is he left alone in the shadows. Four other top-drawer players—guitarist Frank Vignola, clarinetist Anat Cohen, trumpeter Warren Vaché and bassist Nicki Parrott—weave in and out, each sometimes overwhelmed by Cole’s towering contralto. Granted, Pizzarelli contributes several welcome solos (as do Cohen and Vaché), and Parrott steps forward as co-vocalist on a clever intermingling of “Blue Moon” and “Moonglow” and a breezy “On the Sunny Side of the Street.” Still, it’s tempting to ponder how much more affecting this session might have been if Cole’s dynamism was dialed down just a shade.

Originally Published