Nat King Cole ‘Four Classic Albums’ 2CD (Avid Jazz) 4/5

A pianist and singer possessed with an exceptional voice and delivery, Nat ‘King’ Cole was a singularly special musician who could adapt to small combo, orchestral and Latin-influenced settings at ease. It is that very versatility that is showcased here on some of his lesser known albums bar one. Of note, is that, rather than re-issue the same pop sides that he is loved for, this double CD focuses rather on the jazz sides, with an original 10″ from 1952 introducing Nat the pianist and another from a year later, this time backed by an orchestra under the helm of Nelson Riddle. Avid are to be applauded for that decision because there is a tendency to re-issue those same immortal songs.

The small combo on ‘Penthouse Serenade’ (1952) features such wonderful standards as ‘Polka Dots And Moonbeams’ and ‘Somebody Loves Me’, but as technology changed, so did the format on which music was listened to, and by 1955 that very same album had been transformed into a 33 RPM LP with an additional four tracks, all included here, and of which, ‘It Could Happen To You’ and ‘Little Girl’ impress the most. It should never be forgotten that before Nat Cole ever laid down a vocal, he was already an outstanding pianist, and one, moreover, who influenced other younger pianists. Of course, being blessed with that distinctive velvet baritone voice, and afforded the right accompaniment, Cole was equally devastating as a vocalist and so it proves on the album, ‘Sings Two In Love’. A mid-paced swinger of a tune, ‘This Can’t Be Love’, is outstanding and is rivaled only by ‘Almost Like Being In Love’. Extra numbers from a 1955 date have been added, with the Joseph Kosma and Jacques Prévert song an early reading of ‘Autumn Leaves’, that would rapidly become a staple of jazz singers the world over in the decades since. Arguably the best known album here is, ‘Just One Of Those Things’ from 1957, and with the twin genius of Bill May as conductor and arranger. A rapid interpretation of ‘If These Foolish Things’ is matched by ‘A Cottage For Sale’, while brassy orchestration is a welcome feature of, ‘Just For The Fun Of It’ and ‘Don’t Get Around Much Anymore’. Rounding off the music is a 1955 album, ‘Tenth Anniversary’, which neatly divides up between trio outings with ‘Dream A Little Of Me’ a fine rendition, and vocal performances including, the seldom heard, ‘Love Light’ and ‘Sleeping Beauty’. As with other Avid re-issues, full back cover sleeve notes from the original recordings, and generous timing.

Tim Stenhouse