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Hilary Kole: A Self-Portrait

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Many a jazz career has been derailed due to personal complications, but Hilary Kole’s case is rather unique. Five years ago, the sultry Kole was on the fast track to major success, with two solid standards collections on the Justin Time label. Then, in 2011, Kole split with her boyfriend, Birdland club owner John Valenti, who was also her manager. The breakup grew increasingly thorny (even making the New York Post), with Valenti allegedly holding firm to his contract with Kole, disenabling her to record elsewhere.

The dispute now settled, Kole is back in action, having shifted to the smaller Miranda label. Navigating a mixed bag of standards and contemporary pop tunes, the revitalized Kole has undergone a subtle stylistic change. Her sound has grown plusher, closely aligning her with Jane Monheit: Close your eyes and it’s almost impossible to tell the difference.

Shaping the majority of the velvety arrangements herself, Kole fronts a quintet anchored by alternating pianists Tedd Firth and John DiMartino, two of the best vocal accompanists around, plus bassist Paul Gill, guitarist John Hart, drummer Aaron Kimmel and cellist Agnes Nagy. Though the overall feel is intimate and cozy, the pliancy of Kole’s musicianship shines through, most notably on a towering interpretation of Elvis Costello and Burt Bacharach’s “God Give Me Strength,” a saucy slither through Paul Simon’s “50 Ways to Leave Your Lover” and an effervescent “Lemon Twist.”

Originally Published