Like San Francisco’s Paula West, Toronto-based Holly Cole ranks among the finest vocal-jazz stylists from whom we hear far too seldom. What once was steady output has dwindled to a trickle, with Holly only her third studio recording in a decade. Ah, but quality beats quantity, and Cole’s unique sound, at once sweet and salty, is as intoxicating as ever. Back in 1986, Cole formed a trio with pianist Aaron Davis and bassist David Piltch. Alhough she went solo in 1995, they’ve remained her vital confederates. Here they contribute expectedly sterling support alongside an estimable assortment of players that includes keyboardist Larry Goldings, guitarist Ed Cherry, bassist Ben Street, saxophonist Scott Robinson, and drummers Justin Faulkner and Davide DiRenzo.
Sturdy standards fill the majority of Holly’s 11 tracks, as Cole effortlessly travels from the peppy, romantic satisfaction of “I’m Beginning to See the Light” to the sensuous, cashmere folds of “Lazy Afternoon.” Trombonist Wycliffe Gordon is onboard for three selections, extending the tradition of gravel-throated horn players (Satchmo, Jonah Jones, Jack Sheldon, et al.) with winning vocal duets on “I Was Doing All Right” and “I Could Write a Book.” Widening her playlist, Cole has a ball on Dean Martin’s “Ain’t That a Kick in the Head” and the Jerry Lewis-introduced “We’ve Got a World That Swings”; teams with Piltch and Davis to cover another Martin hit, serving up a dreamy “Everybody Loves Somebody”; and adds precisely the right amount of bite to Mose Allison’s sardonic “Your Mind Is on Vacation.”