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That’s What: Original 1943-1947 Recordings

NAXOS 8.120826


Straighten Up and Fly Right (Cole) [2:26]
Gee Baby, Aint’I Good To You (Redman-Razaf) [2:54]
If You Can’t Smile And Say Yes (Jordan-Rodgers) [2:55]
The Man I Love (G. & I. Gershwin) [3:21]
Sweet Lorraine (Burwell-Parish) [3:12]
Body and Soul (Green-Heyman-Sour-Eyton) [3:19]
Embraceable You (G. & I. Gershwin) [3:23]
What Is This Thing Called Love? (Porter) [2:59]
Prelude in C Sharp Minor (Rachmaninov) [2:57]
It’s Only A Paper Moon (Arlen-Rose-Harburg) [2:55]
Easy Listening Blues (Robinson) [3:08]
The Frim Fram Sauce (Ricardel-Evans) [3:15]
(Get Your Kicks On) Route 66 (Troup) [2:59]
You Call It Madness (But I Call It Love) (Cinrad-DuBois-Columbo-Gregory) [3:02]
But She’s My Buddy’s Chick (Oliver-Atkinson) [3:02]
(I Love You) For Sentimental Reasons (Best-Watson) [2:51]
The Best Man (Alfred-Wise) [3:06]
You Don’t Learn That In School (Alfred-Fisher) [3:05]
No Moon At All (Evans-Mann) [2:56]
That’s What (Cole) [2:25]
Nat ‘King’ Cole (piano, vocal)
Oscar Moore (guitar)
Johnny Miller (bass)

Anyone wanting to hear Nat ‘King’ Cole the jazz pianist, rather than Nat ‘King’ Cole the ballad singer has to choose pretty carefully where his recordings from about 1950 onwards are concerned.

Where Cole’s recordings from the 1940s are concerned, the jazz is altogether easier to find. His trio – fairly early in the line of piano trios – is essentially a small jazz unit, on many of whose tracks Cole adds a vocal chorus. Cole’s own piano work is a constant joy. A less flamboyant version of Earl Hines, with clear echoes of Teddy Wilson, his is a lightly swinging piano with a fairly light left hand and fluid, elegant right-hand runs. His harmonic sense is quite sophisticated and advanced for its time, anticipating bebop in some ways. As a piano stylist his influence can be hard in the work of later pianists such as Red Garland, Ahmad Jamal and Duke Jordan – perhaps even Bill Evans. The innovative trio format of piano, guitar and bass also spawned imitators – such as trios led by Oscar Peterson and Jamal.

On these tracks – some of the trio’s very finest recordings – the presence of guitarist Oscar Moore is a real bonus. Moore had an odd career, attracting relatively little attention before his ten years with Cole and then working largely as a studio musician before eventually working as a bricklayer. Moore is heard at something like his best on these tracks, subtle and alert, his playing drawing on the innovations of Charlie Christian. Moore still seems to get less than his full deserts from jazz historians – though he was much praised by successors such as Barney Kessel and Kenny Burrell.

Beyond the quality of the best solos, the music on this CD is characterised by the tremendous sense of group cohesion. Count Basie is reported to have said of the trio, "those cats used to read each other’s minds – it was unbelievable" and certainly there is impressive interplay here, which plays an important part in the trio’s capacity to produce music which sounds simultaneously spontaneous and beautifully smooth.

Amiable as Cole’s voice is, his singing is, for the most part, oddly unjazz-like, though it certainly has a ‘cool’ quality; at least two of these tracks – ‘Straighten Up And Fly Right’ and ‘The Frim Fram Sauce’ are decidedly ‘hip’. But for me it is the instrumental work that is the great pleasure of this CD. Several tracks – including a wonderfully sensitive ‘Body and Soul’ and a bouncily elegant ‘What Is This Thing Called Love’ – are purely instrumental tracks; on others there are superb choruses from both Cole and Moore.

With the sound very well restored, this is an excellent collection, full of high-class music.

Glyn Pursglove

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