Nat "King" Cole and his Trio After Midnight
Nat "King" Cole Just One of Those Things
n the late 1940s, Nat Cole made a career move that was as risky as it was radical. After more than a decade of success as a jazz pianist leading his own trio, he became a pop singer. The results are difficult to argue with: chart-toping singles and albums spread over two decades, during which he ranked alongside Frank Sinatra. His creamy voice and flawless phrasing made him a master of romantic ballads, and some songs -- "Mona Lisa," "Route 66," "It's Only a Paper Moon" -- are simply considered his.
Just One of Those Things and After Midnight were two rather different collections released in the same year, 1957. The first had orchestral backing, while the second was billed as Cole with his trio, but others, including Harry "Sweets" Edison on trumpet, joined in. Upbeat numbers dominate Just One of Those Things. A veteran of Sinatra sessions, arranger/conductor Billy May understood Cole's sophisticated charm, relying heavily on the string section to underpin a collection of familiar tunes, including the Sinatra staple "I Get a Kick Out of You." Even with its guests, After Midnight was pared down to the nonextraneous. It was recorded on four different days over a span of five weeks, yet it remains a tight, tasteful set. Unfortunately, it represented the last time Cole would record a collection with jazz leanings.
Analogue Productions took a gamble by reissuing these LPs. Nat "King" Cole sold a lot of records, so original pressings in good shape are easy to find and not particularly expensive -- unlike Blue Note titles from the same era. However, in terms of sound, the originals are a distant second to these 45rpm LPs. Cole's voice is up front, and the accompaniment, especially the massed strings, has a colorful vividness. After Midnight was recorded in mono, and it is among the very best 1.0-channel reissues. Played with a mono cartridge, it displays intimacy and tonal purity that must be heard to be believed.
Recordings this revealing offer new ways of evaluating everything about the recording sessions, and both sets hold up under the scrutiny. Steve Hoffman and Kevin Gray worked from Capitol Records original tapes, including three-track work tapes for Just One of Those Things. An SACD is due out early next year and will include three-track transfers for multichannel playback as well as mono mixes from the original sessions. The After Midnight SACD available next month will be filled out with bonus numbers.
All of Analogue Productions' Nat "King" Cole releases go the extra mile. They come with well-done booklets that discuss in detail each album's history and the remastering wizardry responsible for their sonics. The sleeves are nothing special in terms of their paper stock or graphics, but that's the only nit I can pick regarding these extraordinary reissues.
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