This big-band-bolstered set from ace vocalist Alexis Cole leans on the literal with its subtitle: Songs from My Tour of Duty. In 2009, following a lengthy, peripatetic stretch that placed pins on the map in New Jersey, India, Ecuador, Japan, and various points across Europe, Cole enlisted in the U.S. Army where, until 2015, she served and sang with the West Point Band’s Jazz Knights. There, she had the opportunity to shine within and above some exceptional Scott Arcangel arrangements tailored to her voice. Yet there was never a focus on formally documenting the majority of that music … until Cole returned to civilian life and made it a priority. Working with collaborator/conductor Jeff Jarvis over the course of several years, she completed the mission and packaged it in this form.
Revisiting her days in uniform, Cole is in peak shape from the start—a dynamic vocalese take on Clifford Brown’s “Joy Spring” where she swings, scats, and wordlessly joins in on an intricate soli, all within the first three minutes of play. Soaring across a varicolored backdrop on “Pure Imagination,” exploring a sly-to-sensational range on “All Blues,” wrapping her voice around the quiet splendors of bossa beauty “Estate,” and traveling gracefully to the stars on “Across the Universe,” Cole continues to make her mark(s).
Named after a military term for an opening parachute, Sky Blossom perfectly reflects the leap into the unknown that led this singer into service and positively shaped her art. Eleven performances (the aforementioned material, two Gershwin goodies, plus single dips into the respective songbooks of Antonio Carlos Jobim, Thelonious Monk, Gigi Gryce, and Billy Joel) highlight Cole’s poise and passion when in grand company. And the twelfth—a deeply felt “American Anthem,” with nothing but Jaehun Kang’s piano sharing space—puts her patriotic heart in full view.