|Alexis Cole's You'd Be So Nice to Come Home To Venus VHCD-1046|
Full disclosure, I have been following the singer Alexis Cole for some time now. I first heard her when I lived back in the metro New York are and I caught her performing in a local Westchester venue after hearing her sing on a fabulous album I Carry Your Heart : Alexis Cole Sings the Music of Pepper Adams from 2012. The friends that I brought along at the time were so taken by her beguiling voice and charming, unassuming stage manner that they became instant fans and snapped up all of her recordings. At the same time they all wondered how such a fabulous singer had been running so low under the radar. I explained that Cole was serving her country as a member of the armed services for a stretch of six years, where she nonetheless continued to sing, fronting with the Army big band up at West Point.
She was just getting her professional career started after attending undergraduate studies at William Patterson College and later at Queen’s College for graduate studies. I continued to follow her and saw her perform with the pianist Pete Malinverni at his Jazz Vespers series at the Pound Ridge Community Church, where he is musical director. She continued to impress me with her easy, unforced delivery and vocal acumen. I just loved her voice. By this time, she was snapped up by SUNY Purchase College as an instructor.
Later that year, I was curating a jazz series for the Stamford Center for the Performing Arts in Stamford CT. I wanted her to be the lead off act for a new jazz series that we were piloting and she enthusiastically obliged bringing with her a fabulous group of musicians that included the guitarist Jack Wilkins, the bassist Andy McKee and the drummer Mike Clark. Predictably she was a big hit.
When I moved to the Atlanta area we stayed in touch via email and I was pleased when she asked me if I would write the liner notes for a Chesky Records project she was doing covering Paul Simon tunes. The album, which was titled Dazzling Blue from 2016, was a fine mix of Simon’s poetic music performed in a bare, roots-based style with Cole’s haunting vocals, Mark Peterson’s bass and Marvin Sewell’s guitar on most of the tracks. Cole was finally beginning to be noticed as the record climbed to 24 on the Billboard jazz charts.
The music on Cole’s latest album, You'd Be So Nice to Come Home To, was recorded back in 2010 at Avatar Studios in New York. Cole’s Japanese label, Venus, released the album in Japan in 2011. It was only available as an import before this year when the album was printed and released in the US. Lucky for us that the Japanese jazz fans didn't just keep this one to themselves, as this is a swinging session with Alexis in excellent form and her band offering inspired support behind her.
The group is made up of many of the musicians that regularly perform at the upper West Side of Manhattan super club SMOKE. They include tenor star Eric Alexander, versatile trumpeter Jim Rotundi, masterful trombonist Steve Davis, pianist David Hazeltine, bassist John Webber and ubiquitous drummer Joe Farnsworth.
Alexis has one of those lilting voices that seems to float in the air. Her delivery is so effortless, so natural, so fluid as to bespeak of some innate talent that requires no sweat equity; but be assured she has honed her craft with many hours of diligent study and assiduous practice. She is s a serious student of the music and like many great singers she has trained herself to become an effective storyteller.
While in the past Cole has taken some material from more modern sources, on this one she has mined the reliable Great American Songbook. Composers like Victor Young, Michel LeGrand, Henry Mancini, Johnny Mercer, Julie Styne, Jerome Kern and of course Cole Porter have their work wonderfully represented by this talented songstress.
My favorite selections include the lead off Victor Young/Jay Livingston composition “Golden Earrings" where Ms. Cole starts out with a short, tasteful scat before introducing the lyrics out front of the three-horn section of Davis, Alexander and Rotundi and the swinging rhythm section of Hazeltine, Webber and Farnsworth. Rotundi’s muted trumpet meshes beautifully with Cole’s melodious voice, before Davis and then Alexander take turns soloing on this swinging piece. Webber’s big round bass leads the way as Farnsworth’s traps keep the time. Just listen to the ease with which Cole’s voice negotiates the lyrics through the changes, impressive.
The Michel Legrand composition, “I Will Wait For You,” is the perfect vehicle to showcase this lady’s wonderful instrument. After a scatted lead accompanied by a walking bass lead in that sets the tone, Cole starts off with the iconic lyrics. She has an astute sense of timing and her inflections are always subtle with no vocal theatrics. Alexander offers a sublime harmonizing tenor solo before the group plays in tight section style behind her; Cole’s years of experience playing in front of the Army Band has obviously paid dividends.
The highlight of Mancini and Mercers’ “Moon River” is a splendid tenor solo by the powerful Eric Alexander.
Another more obscure Young/Livingston composition “Delilah” finds Cole at her most expressive. Her introduction to this theatrical version of Biblically inspired Middle Eastern music is emblematic of her storytelling acumen. Her voice gently sways into the swing of the music as the horn section plays the evocative Alexander arrangement. Rotundi’s open bell trumpet solo is just magic. Farnsworth’s drum solo is punctuated with a synchronous chorus of Cole’s voice and the stellar horn section. Cole is simply hypnotic. Like a snake charmer’s Punghi transfixes a deadly Cobra into docility, Cole’s sultry vocal treatment captivates you like the Biblical Delilah subjugated the mighty Samson. The soporific beat adds to the enchanting effect.
“Alone Together” is played as a quick tempo swinger with some wonderful solo work by Davis. Rotundi, whose trumpet work on this album raises the entire program, makes a brilliantly succinct statement. Bassist John Webber's beat is always strong and omnipresent.
The poignant “You’ve Changed” is played like a slow ballad with Cole and company wrenching out all the emotion and pathos that this classic song of lament can muster. Listen to Rotundi’s solo on this and marvel at the man’s ability to play precisely what is needed and then listen to Cole’s crystalline voice at the coda. Just beautiful.
Other songs on the album include “Cry Me a River,” “A Beautiful Friendship,” “All the Things You Are,” “So in Love,” and the title song of the album “You’d Be So Nice to Come Home To.”
For those of you who crave to hear familiar standards played with modern, creative arrangements and featuring a fabulous singer backed by a great band, then look no further than Alexis Cole’s You’d Be So Nice to Come Home To. Believe me this is an album you’ll be glad to come home to.