a self portrait
November 8, 2014
Reviewed by Alix Cohen for Cabaret Scenes
Hilary Kole has one of the great contemporary jazz voices. This is partly attributable to a terrific, well-honed instrument and, partly, I conjecture, to an old soul. Kole comprehends the genre viscerally. She interprets numbers with a heady blend of sophistication and original inflection natural to artists of a much earlier era.
a self-portrait is open to inference. My conjectured scenario is: the difficult decision to exit a long-term relationship, consequences, pain, doubt, dabbling in connections of less feeling/investment, memories, tenuous resolution, new beginnings. It’s clearly a journey.
We open with an ebullient, waltzy “While We’re Young,” the expression of a girl sure of endless possibilities. Few vocalists change octaves with such finesse and creativity. Then— whomp!—relationship reality hits with “50 Ways to Leave Your Lover.” Kole’s performance is deceptively loose, actually requiring immense control. Phrases don’t land where expected. This feels like a discussion with oneself…which goes on a bit long.
“When the World Was Young” (“Ah, the Apple Trees”) is melancholy, lilting, lovely; looking back wistfully on less complicated times. Styling is that of chanteuse. A spiritual with jazz underpinnings, “God Give Me Strength” implies things are worse than we thought. The iconic “And I Love Him” rides an intriguing arrangement of undulating piano, eloquent guitar. It’s slow, sincere: explanation? justification?
An infectiously rhythmic “It’s All Right with Me” seems to celebrate not caring so much. It’s insouciant, flip…a state which apparently doesn’t take, as a simply beautiful rendition of “River”—“Oh, I wish I had a river I could skate away on”—follows, aching, evocative. It’s as if Kole is hugging herself, rocking back and forth. Recollections haunt with a gently up-tempo “I Remember You.”
“Lemon Twist,” one of those 1940s, nonsense songs more about music than lyric, intercedes with bee-like bass and jitterbug piano. Are we having cocktails here? Barely present, “Come a Little Closer” seems like a toe in the water. Then determination: “Landslide”—“Well, I’ve been afraid of changing/’Cause I built my life around you/But time makes you bolder”—like a long, deep sigh.
With “You Must Believe in Spring,” our heroine is trying to convince herself. It’s a lovely, lush mantra accompanied by contemplative piano. Really, one might curl up in Kole’s voice like a cashmere blanket. “The Man I Love” (listen to the very faint drum) is more snake charm than familiar wail. Kole sounds like she’s attempting to manifest an as yet faceless person. Her back is straighter, her head higher.
We close with a unique version of “Some Other Time.” Pauses are as important in conveying feeling as words; phrasing paramount. Octaves again go outlaw. It’s dreamy, but not without confidence. The ability to let go and move on, perhaps…leaving a wake of afterglow.
Arrangements by Hilary Kole with contributions by Rich DeRosa, Misha Piatigorsky and Tedd Firth, with Firth on piano (certain tracks). With John DiMartino (piano–certain tracks), Paul Gill (bass), John Hart (guitar), Aaron Kimmel (drums), Agnes Nagy (cello).