The best tribute albums are typically those that go beyond the obvious signature tunes, digging deeper into repertoire and/or offering fresh perspective on the honoree’s legacy. Ori Dagan scores on both counts. The Canadian vocalist’s backing includes pianist Mark Kieswetter, guitarist Nathan Hiltz and bassist Ross MacIntyre, recalling the classic Nat Cole/Oscar Moore/Wesley Prince trio, alongside some stellar guests. Dagan bears little likeness to the creamy-rich Cole, his vocal style more aligned with the Mark Murphy/Kurt Elling school—a fundamental difference that is key to this salute’s unique appeal.
Dagan opens with a straight-ahead reading of “Lillette,” a charming boy-girl ditty recorded by Cole’s trio in 1947, then dives into the first of five originals, “Sting of the Cactus,” a zippy paean to the rigors of pursuing musical excellence. “Nature Boy,” invariably ethereal, is given a bolder, brisker treatment that proves affecting, while the usually dreamy “Unforgettable” is reimagined as a frisky swinger. Two more Dagan compositions speak more directly to Cole: The bouncy “Bibimbap” leverages the popular Korean dish to craft a contemporary companion to “The Frim Fram Sauce,” while the somber “Complexion,” featuring Jane Bunnett on sax, recalls the racial intolerance Cole faced and so classily rose above.