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Nat King Cole Trio: Swiss Radio Days Jazz Series 43: Zurich 1950 (TCB)

Christopher Loudon's review of archival live recording of the legendary Nat King Cole Trio

Cover of Nat King Cole album Zurich 1950
Cover of Nat King Cole album Zurich 1950

Four years ago, for the 33rd entry in its sterling assemblage of vintage concert broadcasts, the Swiss Radio Days series unearthed a rare 1960 teaming of Quincy Jones’ big band with Nat King Cole. Now, 10 installments later, the series dials Cole back a decade for a trio date at Zurich’s Kongresshaus on Oct. 19, 1950. By the time of this live session, Cole’s core trio—with guitarist Irving Ashby and bassist Joe Comfort—had unofficially expanded to a quartet, with Jack “Mr. Bongo” Costanzo a regular contributor on recordings and tours.

The dawn of the 1950s was an interesting time for Cole, who found himself smack dab in the middle of the career divide between respected jazz pianist and silk-smooth pop singer. His massive “Mona Lisa” was riding high on the charts. But Cole skips it (also sidestepping the equally seismic “Nature Boy”), focusing more on playing and adding vocals to just five of 15 tracks, including a cream-filled “Embraceable You,” “Sweet Lorraine,” “Route 66” and two peppy numbers, “Little Girl” and “Too Marvelous for Words.”The balance is (mostly) classic trio-based fare, alternating between feather-light bounce and velvet-lined balladry: jaunty romps across “Tea for Two” and “How High the Moon” (intriguingly, “Holiday for Strings” is briefly referenced in both); ruminative readings of “Body and Soul” and “Summertime.” Ashby is given the solo spotlight for his playful “Nothing to Fret About.” But most dazzling is Costanzo, galvanizing “Bop Kick” and then cutting loose on his and Cole’s multilayered “Go Bongo.”

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