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A thoroughly surprising take on Nat 'King' Cole


Gregory Porter, Nat "King" Cole and Me." (Blue Note)

Vince Mendoza once arranged, conducted and produced one of the disc masterpieces of the past 30 years -- Joni Mitchell's "Both Sides Now" in which one of the greatest songwriters folk rock will ever have decided to show the world what she could do almost exclusively (except for her most famous song) as an interpreter of songs from the Great American Songbook. The result was devastating -- a magnificent disc that showed generations of female world-beating jazz singers everything they were doing wrong (and did they ever listen and learn; Mitchell's influence on singer Diana Krall was huge).

Mendoza was crucial to that masterpiece and he's crucial to this disc too which makes it a far more brilliant exploration of Nat "King" Cole's repertoire than anyone had any right to expect. This is Porter with the London Symphony Orchestra and it's a marvelous and sophisticated fulfillment of rare high ambition.

Cole's centennial is coming up in 2019 when we will, no doubt, be hearing his repertoire all over the place. No one's voice will ever approach the honey roasted quality of Cole's but Porter's voice has a formidable amount of Cole's way of caressing lyrics that others might be afraid to tackle. ("Nature Boy" for instance.) And when Porter decides to swing like the jazz singer he is on "L-O-V-E" he gets trumpet player Terence Blanchard to solo and make crystal clear that for him, as with Cole, jazz chops always came first. A thoroughly surprising and fine disc.

3 1/2 stars (out of four)

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