Nat “King” Cole – Just One Of Those Things (orchestra conducted by Billy May) – Capitol Records/Analogue Productions mono/stereo/3-channel SACD CAPP 903 SA, 76:27 (Distr. by Harmonia mundi) *****:
Nat “King” Cole – Nat “King” Cole Sings Songs From “St. Louis Blues” (orchestra conducted by Gordon Jenkins) – Capitol Records/Analogue Productions mono/stereo/3-channel SACD CAPP 993 SA, 66:46 (Distr. by Harmonia mundi) *****:
Recorded in 1957, Just One Of Those Things is a superb homage to swing/big band music. Arranger Billy May’s precise charts are a perfect complement to Cole’s singing. Careful not to emulate a Sinatra vehicle, the duo created versions of renowned songs that highlighted the chemistry of the singer with the highly skilled orchestra. “These Foolish Things” (recorded earlier by Cole in the 40s) begins with a late-night wistfulness, guided by a guitar. The cut builds as horns are added, and a playful ambiance emerges. Duke Ellington’s “Don’t Get Around Much Anymore” appears customized for the subtle patterns of Cole’s vocals. His tone and articulation are unsurpassed. The title cut is up tempo delight and reminds the listener how versatile a singer Nat was. He manages to fit his unique voice into the melody with a fresh take. The opening track, “When Your Lover Has Gone” breaks from the conventional versions, with a bluesy overtone. For anyone familiar with the syrupy cover of “Who’s Sorry Now”, will appreciate this muscular treatment. The orchestra is percussive and Cole blows the roof off with his swaggering rendition. “The Party’s Over” and “Once In A While” become Nat “King” Cole originals. Two bonus cuts (“You’ll Never Know” and “Just For The Fun Of It”) are saucy and welcome additions.
Nelson Riddle arrangements were integral to Cole’s success. The two collaborated on forty-five hits in the early 50s. In 1958 they would join forces once again in St. Louis Blues. The singer, who became a pioneer as the first African-American host of a network television show, was selected to portray legendary blues composer, W.C. Handy in a musical bio-pic. The obvious challenge was to adapt this material to modern popular music. Opening the album is an overture that combines Riddle’s “Love Theme” and “Hesitating Blues”. Cole’s jazzy phrasing on the latter is a natural fit to blues, and Harry “Sweets” Edison contributes some catchy trumpet runs. The relaxed vibe of “King” is apparent on easy swing pieces like “Chantez Les Bas” and “Careless Blues”. However the interpretations of blues as pop standards is more than evident. “Joe Turner’s Blues” is upbeat and coalesced by big band aesthetics. “Friendless Blues” is “down and dirty” showcasing the heartfelt vocal style of Cole. His ability to inject emotion with graceful restraint is uncanny. Horn-laden moments energize “Beale Street Blues” and “Yellow Dog Blues”. But the superbly crafted vocals are never overshadowed. Classic Jenkins string orchestration envelops “Morning Star”. The jazzy version of “Memphis Blues” with trumpet and slide trombone is memorable and elevates the project.
Both of these reissues benefit from the varied formats (mono, stereo and 3-channel). The SACD quality is superior and defines Cole’s voice in clear and warm tones. The orchestra instrumentation is precise with excellent separation. Nat “King” Cole makes a case for being the greatest jazz singer of this or any era.
Just One Of Those Things = When Your Lover Has Gone; A Cottage For Sale; Who’s Sorry Now; Once In A While; These Foolish Things Remind Me Of You; Just For The Fun Of It; Don’t Get Around Much Anymore; I Understand; Just One Of Those Things; The Song Is Ended (But The Melody Lingers On); I Should Care; The Party’s Over; Bonus tracks: You’ll Never Know; Just For The Fun Of It (Alternate Take-Take Three, Mono)
St. Louis Blues = Overture; Harlem Blues; Chantez Les Bas; Friendless Blues; Stay; Joe Turner’s Blues; Beale Street Blues; Careless Love; Morning Star; Memphis Blues; Yellow Dog Blues; St. Louis Blues
A lesser known jazz pioneer gets a re-mastered vinyl upgrade.