Freddy Cole : Talk To Me

Thirty-five years into a remarkably prodigious, late-breaking second career, Freddy Cole is rivaled only by fellow octogenarian Tony Bennett as the apogee of class. The days of Cole having to distinguish himself from sainted elder sibling Nat are well behind him. What remains is distinctly, uniquely Freddy: sandy-voiced and narrow-ranged, but unequalled (even by Bennett) in the art of instinctive, subdued elegance. No grand gestures, no flashy flourishes, and never a false move or misaligned sentiment, sharing Billie Holiday’s skill for cunningly underplayed mastery.

Like Holiday, Cole is exceptionally good at mining deep for material, continually unearthing less familiar, but no less precious, gems. Bill Withers, a longtime Cole favorite, is represented thrice, with the mellow “You Just Can’t Smile It Away,” sunnily philosophic “Lovely Day” and gently touching “Can We Pretend?” All are stylishly trimmed by special guests Harry Allen and Terell Stafford, alongside Cole’s estimable bandmates: guitarist Randy Napoleon, bassist Elias Bailey and drummer Curtis Boyd, plus pianist John Di Martino. Cole also digs into the songbooks of two heroes, echoing the soft caress of Joe Williams on “I Was Telling Her About You” and recalling Arthur Prysock on a playfully relaxed “Talk to Me” and bluesy “Come Home.”

He closes with a familial nod, but not to Nat. Freddy’s son Lionel penned the slight but charming “After All These Years,” and its exploration of sustained romance speaks equally to Cole’s magnificent durability.