Freddy Cole Quartet

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Freddy Cole Quartet

Birdland, NYC, December 22, 2018

Reviewed by Alix Cohen for Cabaret Scenes

Freddy Cole

Chicago-born performer Freddy Cole, brother of Nat and uncle to Natalie, eases into “I Will Wait for You” (Michel Legrand/Norman Gimbel) with utter refinement, looking straight ahead. Phrasing is impeccable. Special guest Joel Frahm’s sax playfully swings around the melody. Sam Raderman’s clean-picked guitar creates round-edged loops.
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“I’ll Buy You a Star” (Dorothy Fields/Arthur Schwartz)—“Not just a star/But the best star in the sky:—begins with light cymbals, faux chimes.
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Frahm’s fast fingered bent knees sax brandished side to side and Raderman’s swaggering guitar take it up notches. When Cole goes into his piano solo, bassist Elias Bailey and Frahm watch him smiling. The tune becomes lighter and lighter—”I’ll buy you a star, my dahlin’.”

Victor Schertzinger/Johnny Mercer’s “I Remember You” continues in that finely wrought vein. Bass thrums, brushes stroke. Cole’s smoky vocal precedes a sax sound so mellow it’s barely there. Frahm bounces gently, elbows pump. Guitar sashays. “They Didn’t Believe Me” (Jerome Kern/Herbert Reynolds) is slow and sentimental with sighing overtones. Sax tenderly sways.

There’s no patter. One song arrives on another’s heels during our applause. As if inhabited by music, Cole, Frahm, and Bailey have their eyes closed while playing. The saxophonist must draw his air from hidden pipes below the stage so long and seamless are his phrases.

A terrific, cha-cha arrangement of “Let There Be Love” (Dave Cavanaugh/ Vicki Young)— “but first of all” (count 1-2-3-4)first of all-let there be love” —finds Frahm bending forward, executing musical loop de loops with a frisky guitar, Jay Sawyer’s drumsticks on metal and wood, and a low bass as ballast. The number is exuberant. Cole remains low key, quietly in charge.

Blues emerge understated, authentic. “Fancy girls out working honky-tonk’s a place these were a part of the good old days/When I used to swing on the south side of Chicago” (“On the South Side of Chicago”/Ray Price) where the sax lets loose with wah-wah moan, whipped, wrangled, unstitched. An up-tempo pulse evokes Bailey’s rapt bobble head. Hands rise and fall with precision.

“If I Had You” (Jimmy Campbell/Reg Connelly/Ted Shapiro) closes the show with a cottony vocal, shadowy guitar, and muted sax. Cole faces us on the piano bench now. His phrasing recalls Mabel Mercer—almost spoken, earnest. “There is nothin’ (eyebrows rise) I couldn’t do if I had you.” The sax is lush.

“Good night and drive carefully. If you use the elevator, push the right button.”

Frahm tells me later that Cole keeps switching things around to keep it fresh. It’s clear this band enjoys playing together. The pleasure is infectious.

Alix Cohen

Alix Cohen’s writing began with poetry, segued into lyrics then took a commercial detour. She now authors pieces about culture/the arts, including reviews and features. A diehard proponent of cabaret, she’s also a theater aficionado, a voting member of Drama Desk, The Drama League and of The NY Press Club in addition to MAC. Currently, Alix writes for Cabaret Scenes, Theater Pizzazz and Woman Around Town. Additional pieces have been published by The New York Post, The National Observer’s Playground Magazine, Pasadena Magazine and Times Square Chronicles. Alix is the recipient of six New York Press Club Awards.