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Alexis Cole: Sky Blossom

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Alexis Cole: Sky Blossom
Photograph courtesy of the artiste

It’s one thing to press the reset button on repertoire comprising standards – classic and contemporary, from here and there, but quite another thing to present them in the kind of big band setting so luscious and entirely exquisite that you seem to be listening to them for the first time. This is the feeling I get when listening to Alexis Cole and her interpretations of this marvelous music on Sky Blossom. Clearly Miss Cole has drawn from those who have gone before her, but with lustrous voice and in spectacular fashion she makes each song anew.

In fresh, free voice, Alexis Cole does this timeless music proud. Each has been arranged in the grand manner by Scott Arcangel [although, for the record, Mike Reifenberg arranged “How Long Has This Been Going On” and Chris Walden did likewise for “How I Wish”]. Miss Cole understands that airy grace and languid sensuality are the essence, but she never falls into the trap of winsomeness; on the other hand, she often breathes fire into the [music’s]most emotional foundations – for instance on “All Blues”; or digs into the meditative mysticism of “American Anthem”.

Singing in a clearly enunciated manner, she phrases alluringly [not the least in Tom Jobim’s tender supplications to his beloved on “Triste”], points key words without exaggeration and relishes the opportunities for dramatisation say, in the effervescence unleashed on Clifford Brown’s “Joy Spring”.

All of this is abetted by the magnificent idiomatic performances by the many musicians called upon to accompany Miss Cole. Musicians here are inventive, stylistically acute collaborators, with individuals beguiling in the solo expeditions, each melodic and harmonic variation played with piquancy in such a delectable fashion that these classics become welcome discoveries.

Honours among featured musicians are pretty well even across this recording; each solo is ravishingly played by the musicians called upon to do so. Every tempo is handled with precision and plangent creativity. This is clearly a performance by an artiste of the first order; one with a vocalist in the spotlight with a well-oiled big band that is going to be hard to equal let alone surpass anytime soon.

Track list – 1: Joy Spring; 2: Pure Imagination; 3: How Long Has This Been Going On; 4: All Blues; 5: Estate; 6: Across the Universe; 7: Triste; 8: How I Wish; 9: Social Call; 10: New York State of Mind; 11: Our Love is Here to Stay; 12: American Anthem

Personnel – Alexis Cole: vocals; Jeff Jarvis: conductor [2 – 7, 9 – 11]; Ryan DeWesse, Cade Gotthardt, Evan Hamada, Andrew Solares: trumpet [2 – 7, 9 – 11]; Phineas Crisp, Ken Eernisse, Anna Menotti, Bobby Burton: trombones [2 – 7, 9 – 11]; Stephen Wood, Erik Larsen, Nathan King [solo on 11], Tanner Olivas, Chris Cockrill: saxophones [2 – 7, 9 – 11]; Alex Flavell: piano [2 – 7, 9 – 11]; Max Myrick: bass [2 – 7, 9 – 11]; Tyler Kreutel: drums [2 – 7, 9 – 11]; Brandon Johnson: guitar [2 – 7, 9 – 11]; Pablo Muñoz-Snyder: vibraphone [2 – 7, 9 – 11]; Nick Mancini: vibraphone [2 – 7, 9 – 11]; Jeff Haynes: percussion [2 – 7, 9 – 11]; Featuring – Bob Sheppard: tenor and soprano saxophones [soli 2, 9]; Derrick James: alto saxophone [soli 4, 10]; Jeff Jarvis: trumpet [soli 5, 7, 8]; Paul Meyers: guitar [5, 6, 9]; David Finck: bass [5 – 7]; Sébastien Nouat: sound design [6]; John Castleman [solo on 1], Vito Speranza, Josh Economy, Rich Johnson: trumpets [1, 8]; Dan Pierce, Ron Fleischman, Jason Miller, Teddy Arnold: trombones [1, 8]; Mike Reifenberg [arrangement 8], Derrick James, David Loy Song, Jay Malone, Xavier Perez: saxophones [1, 8]; Scott Arcangel: piano [1, solo on 8] and arrangements [ except 3, 8]; Mark Tonelli: guitar [1, 8]; Brandon Nelson: bass [1, 8]; Scott Drews: drums [1, 8]; Jaehun Kang: piano [12]; Chris Walden: [arrangement 3]

Released – 2021
Label – ZOHO Music [ZM 202108]
Runtime – 1:09:35

Raul da Gama is a poet and essayist. He has published three collections of poetry, He studied at Trinity College of Music, London specialising in theory and piano, and he has a Masters in The Classics. He is an accomplished critic whose profound analysis is reinforced by his deep technical and historical understanding of music and literature.

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