Album review…Nat Cole, “Tenth Anniversary” (EMI)

nat cole 10th anniversary[Published in the Spring 2008 issue of “Jazz Improv Magazine”]

Nat “King” Cole

TENTH ANNIVERSARY—EMI Music Special Markets CCM-870. Dream a Little Dream of Me; There! I’ve Said It Again; Lulubelle; I’m an Errand Boy for Rhythm; The Love Nest; But All I’ve Got Is Me; Peaches; I Can’t Be Bothered; Too Soon; Rough Ridin’; The Story of My Wife; Sleeping Beauty; Lovelight; Where Were You?; Mother Nature and Father Time; Wish I Were Somebody Else.

PERSONNEL: Nat “King” Cole, piano, vocal; Oscar Moore, guitar; Johnny Miller, bass; Irving Ashby, guitar; Joe Comfort, bass; Jack Costanzo, bongo; Pete Rugolo Orchestra; Nelson Riddle Orchestra; Les Baxter Orchestra; Dave Cavanaugh Orchestra.

By Mark Lomanno

EMI and the Cole Estate have made available, for the first time since its initial pressing, an album of unreleased Nat Cole tracks Capitol assembled in 1955 (W-514), marking his tenth anniversary with the label. This is not an album Cole recorded as a cohesive whole, but rather a collection of “leftover” tracks from previous recording sessions. The album features Cole’s iconic vocal performances in several contexts: with his trio, and with the orchestras of Les Baxter, Dave Cavanaugh, Nelson Riddle, and Pete Rugolo. Throughout all the performances the primacy of the vocal text is apparent: the musicians offered brief improvisations as elaborations on the form that serve mainly to break up statements of the main vocal melody. That being said, this is quintessential Cole. Fans of his singing will not be disappointed in this collection, whereas fans of his piano performance will have a few new tracks to enjoy as well.

Opening with a vocal scat-guitar unison line, “Lulubelle” is a stand out track. Cole’s inflection and phrasing on this line is impeccable. His piano improvisation is also noteworthy for its alternation between swinging melodic lines and a locked hands style. “I’m an Errand Boy for Rhythm,” recently re-popularized by Diana Krall, is performed as an up-tempo swing. Again, Cole’s piano performance, often overlooked in favor of his signature voice, is of primary interest here. Despite the tempo, Cole crafts a masterful solo, rich in rhythmic and melodic thematic development. Anyone who doubts that Cole was a first-rate pianist should pay careful attention to his solo break on “Errand Boy.” In all, on this selection in particular, Cole outshines his other bandmates. Along with unison band figures and well-crafted improvisations, calculated changes in feel and tempo—including a very effective shift to half-time—show Cole’s attention to arrangement and form. This is the Cole trio at its best.

The orchestral tracks on the album feature artfully rendered ballads, with a few swing numbers interspersed. As James Ritz points out in his liner notes, this album marks Cole’s transition from leader of his trio to international solo star. Cole aficionados will especially delight in the re-release of this material. “Rough Ridin'” features Dave Cavanaugh’s solid horn section whose background figures punctuate Cole’s smooth, swinging vocal style; the juxtaposition of the two make for an especially rich arrangement. Nelson Riddle penned a rhapsodic rendition of “Lovelight” for his orchestra’s first recording session with Cole; it was also during this session that Cole recorded his iconic performance of “Unforgettable.” Cole and the Pete Rugolo Orchestra offer up a definitive rendition of Leonard Feather’s “Where Were You” and feature masterfully scored saxophone soli backgrounds on “I Wish I Were Somebody Else.”

In its eclecticism, this album offers the proverbial “something for everyone.” Fans of this era, of Cole and his different ensembles, and collectors seeking to round out their library, will all find Tenth Anniversary to be a rich milieu of period pieces. Providing a unique glimpse into the middle of Cole’s career, the album captures the best of his trio work and foreshadows the superstardom he would achieve as a soloist.

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