Nat “King” Cole – The Very Thought of You – (with Gordon Jenkins and His Orchestra) – Capitol Records /Analogue Productions mono/stereo/3-channel SACD CAPP 1084 SA, 56:13 [Distr. by Harmonia mundi] *****:
Nat “King" Cole – Love Is the Thing – (with Gordon Jenkins and His Orchestra) –
Capitol Records/Analogue Productions mono/stereo/3-channel SACD CAPP 824 SA, 72:49 [Distr. by Harmonia mundi] *****:
Before Nat “King” Cole became an iconic popular singer, he was an emerging star on the jazz scene. During his youth in Chicago, he was influenced by the music of Louis Armstrong, Jimmy Noone, and especially, Earl Hines. After learning to play organ from his churchgoing mother, Cole developed as a jazz pianist, playing around the Midwest. After a tour left him stranded in Los Angeles, he remained there to pursue his dreams. The Nat “King" Cole trio, consisting of piano, bass and guitar (unheard of at the time) became a staple of the West Coast jazz scene for years. He switched to recording as a popular vocalist, releasing “The Christmas Song”, thus leaving his mark on American culture forever. Signed to Capitol Records, he and label-mate Frank Sinatra revolutionized popular music.
Both The Very Thought of You and Love Is the Thing are viewed as concept albums, originally released in 1957. Cole’s silky baritone covers broad thematic reflections on love and romance. Gordon Jenkins uses highly orchestrated constructs to complement the earthy, jazzy vocals. “At Last”, “When I Fall In Love” and “Stardust”, all standards, are transformed by minor key arrangements that elevate the singer’s artistry. Cole’s ability to be original is evident on a slower tempo rendition of “Ain’t Misbehavin”. The trademark smoky voice renders a contemplative eminence. The 50s’ embrace of French ambiance is explored on “Cherie, I Love You” and “Cherchez La Femme”.
Nat “King” Cole was able to transform any song into a textured portrait. His phrasing was impeccable, and the precise elocution permeates the aural nuance of every song. Minute details, like the “pitter patter” of rain in “When Sunny Gets Blue”, are deftly poetic in the hands of this singer. “It’s All In The Game” became a popular rock ‘n roll cover in the same era as this song. This version has more sincerity and feels authentic. All of the numbers benefit significantly from the natural jazz inflections of his vocals. While the string section is reliably featured, the non-utilization of orchestral brass, woodwinds and hard drumming (the rhythm is provided by bass and brush) is refreshing.
Capitol Records recorded these albums directly to monaural tape, considered standard practice at that time (the year before the stereodisc LP came out), as well as to three-channel. On this SACD, the original session tapes have been mastered directly from both the mono and 3-channel masters. The Analogue Productions/Acoustic Sounds engineers spared no effort in setting up a third identical monitoring channel and special three-track tape heads on the decks in order to do these historic reissues properly. Both the mono and two-channel versions are on both the CD layer and the stereo SACD layer while the “multichannel” layer (sort of a misnomer here) carries the three front channels. What seems a bit odd is that tracks 5 & 6 of Love Is the Thing are not included on the three-channel layer. Also, though The Very Thought of You includes the very first release of the original mono of two of the tracks, those tracks are not on the standard CD layer – just the stereo and 3-channel layers. Although the 3-channel versions are by far the most stunning sonically – even if your center speaker doesn’t quite match your L & R – you can have similar sonic fun comparing the mono and stereo versions of tracks, as Beatles fans do with their two different reissue sets.
The overall quality of the 3-channel sound is stunning – demo level. Lavish string and orchestra arrangements seem less obtrusive, and more complementary to Cole. His voice, unsurpassed in timbre and resonance, is exquisite. Nat “King” Cole was one of the best singers of any generation. This collection of songs preserves his elite status. [By the way, there’s a 3400-word essay by Chris Hall about Nat Cole on the first SACD and another 2800-word one with Love Is the Thing…Ed.]
TrackList (The Very Thought Of You): The Very Thought Of You; But Beautiful; Impossible; I Wish I Knew; I Found A Million Dollar Baby; Magnificent Obsession; My Heart Tells Me; This Is All I Ask; Cherie, I Love You; Making Believe You’re Here; Cherchez La Femme; For All We Know; The More I See You; Don’t Blame Me; There Is No Greater Love.
TrackList (Love Is The Thing): When I Fall In Love; Stardust; Stay As Sweet As You Are; Where Can I Go Without You?; Maybe It’s Because I Love You Too Much; Love Letters; Ain’t Misbehavin’; I Thought About Marie; At Last; It’s All In The Game; When Sunny Gets Blue; Love Is The Thing.
— Robbie Gerson