Freddy Cole is a marvelous singer, combining consummate ease with a lyric and acute sense of melodic and rhythmic phrasing. Whether it's the lost love of the title song or the reliable romance of Cole Porter's "I Concentrate on You," Cole's warm baritone creates the impression that everything he sings has been made up on the spot, as if every lyric is the current sum of his thoughts and experiences. That conversational art is much in evidence in this mix of Brazilian and jazz tunes, extending to the way Cole interacts with his sidemen and they with him. There are two basic groups here, an all-star Latin septet with arrangements by pianist Arturo O'Farrill and Cole's own working quartet, but there are also several permutations in between. O'Farrill's work is tailor-made to Cole's throaty voice, mixing it with contrasting flute and guitar and complementary trombone timbres, the latter provided by Angel "Papa" Vazquez, just one of several superb soloists. Tenor saxophonist Eric Alexander adds inventive, hard-swinging tenor to "I Concentrate"; Joe Beck's guitars define the delicacy of Jobim's "Sem Voce," sung here in the original Portuguese; and O'Farrill's piano is a dancing delight whenever it comes to the fore.
It's hardly a criticism of Freddy Cole to say that he sounds almost eerily like big brother Nat. They share an unmistakable vocal timbre that can only be attributed to incredibly fortunate genes. This 1997 Fantasy album is one of his best. A swinging collection of standards delivered with elegance, emotion, and a mature confidence. Few singers know their way around an old tune like Cole. An outstanding pianist (again like his brother), Cole bows out on the keyboards on all but one tune here in favor of soulful young phenom Cyrus Chestnut.
When jazz vocalist Freddy Cole sings, it's with a built-in groove that's unshakeable, with warm, honeyed tones that wrap the lyrics in velvet and set them down firmly in the pocket. Cole has one great little album here; if you thought it was impossible to produce a modern-day jazz vocal album that's not infused with endless oodles-of-noodles riffing that shows you nothing except the ability of the vocalist to sing everything but the melody, be prepared for greatness. With a small combo led by pianist Cedar Walton and tenor saxophonist Grover Washington, Jr., Cole has a backdrop that never gets in the way of his magic nor does anything that doesn't help the song. Timber-wise, he owes a lot of his phrasing to his older brother, Nat "King" Cole, and Francis Albert Sinatra, but Freddy ultimately remains his own man and that's what makes this album such a success. Ten or 12 stars, at least.
One can sympathize with Freddie Cole's plight. The younger brother of Nat King Cole, Freddie has spent most of his life in his brother's shadow, even though Nat died in 1965. The problem is that Freddie is also a pianist/vocalist and sometimes performs similar material. In fact, the title of this CD is a bit absurd, since Cole is heard playing in the same type of group that Nat made famous (a trio with guitarist Ed Zad and bassist Eddie Edwards) and his repertoire includes such songs as "Home Fried Potatoes," "To Whom It May Concern," "The Best Man," and a ten-minute, six-song "Nat Cole Medley." Add to that such originals as "He Was the King" and "I'm Not My Brother, I'm Me," and one is not allowed to forget for a moment that Freddie was Nat's brother. Actually, Freddie has an older and raspier voice (which is natural, since he has outlived Nat) and his piano style is more tied to 1950s jazz (such as Red Garland) than to swing. This fairly definitive CD from Freddie Cole does give one a strong sampling of his talents.
This is something of a sequel to the 1993 Ace compilation of early King sides titled Blues Guitar Hero: The Influential Early Sessions, though it took Ace nearly a decade to unleash the companion volume. All of the 24 tracks were recorded between 1961 and 1966, though some of the songs weren't released until after 1966, in a few cases not for decades; indeed, four alternate takes make their first appearance here. All of King's chart records occurred in 1961, and all were included on the prior Blues Guitar Hero: The Influential Early Sessions, so this couldn't qualify as the first-choice early King; there's no "Hide Away" or "San-Ho-Zay" here. On a musical level, though, this isn't much different in nature or quality than what you'll find on the earlier anthology. Split between vocals and instrumentals, it's top-notch R&B-blues-rock & roll crossover with stinging guitar and soulful vocals, even if the similarity of some of the songs might turn off non-aficionados.
Of the Three 'Kings' of the blues (BB, Albert and Freddy), Freddy King is perhaps the least well known these days. He enjoyed cross-over success with the white rock audiences of the 70s (hitting with albums for Cotillion, RSO and Shelter and touring extensively - his 'live' LP for German label Crosscut is about the closest thing to heavy metal blues imaginable). Yet his death from hepatitis in 1976 robbed Freddy of the kind of acclaim that the current blues revival has given BB, Albert and John Lee Hooker. There was a time, though, in the mid-'60s when his singles were among the most influential in blues, particularly for British and European audiences. His instrumental singles Hideaway and Drivin' Sideways were issued on Sue and covered by every white blues group that knew what was really happening on the R&B scene. Those two sides plus classics like (The Welfare) Turns It's Back On You, See See Baby, The Stumble and San-Ho-Zay were covered by the likes of Eric Clapton, John Mayall, Peter Green, Albert Collins and Chicken Shack.