Richie Cole, "Plays Ballads and Love Songs" (Richie Cole Presents, Available next week)
Say what? "Alto Madness" through bebop is Richie Cole's game, not ballads. You've got to remember that Cole is the first jazz musician to make a plausible jazz version of the theme from "I Love Lucy."
That's why this is a mind-boggling first ballad album by Richie Cole in his 45-year career. It came about this way: Cole and an orchestra had rented a Pittsburgh studio to record a lot of the music for a previously released album but another opportunity for the orchestra musicians came along. So Cole and his rhythm section remained to play whatever they wanted. After eight tunes, they realized they'd been playing ballads. So they went the whole way for a ballad record.
But even there, Cole is in the "alto madness" business whenever possible. Would you believe Johnny Mathis' seldom jazzified "Chances Are?" And "It's Magic?" And, are you ready, a jazz version of "The Internationale" which he plays --no, caresses. By God, it works as a ballad. "I don't play the saxophone, I sing the saxophone" he says, and proves on the best of this. Even when Cole is not the great bebop comedian of the alto saxophone, he'll find a way to give you bebop vaudeville somehow.
3 stars (out of four)