By Don Heckman
It’s no mystery that singer Natalie Cole has followed in the musical footsteps of her extrordinary father, pianist/singer Nat “King” Cole. Along the way, she’s won nine Grammy Awards after 21 nominations. Her 1991 album Unforgettable, which included an interactive duet, with her late father, on the song “Unforgettable,” triggering the granting of Grammy Awards for Album of the Year, Record of the Year and Best Traditional Pop Performance.
All that was in mind Wed. night at the Hollywood Bowl, as Cole offered a performance overflowing with her superbly adept singing. Although she’s come through numerous difficult periods, personal and otherwise, Cole has survived, still capable of capturing the affections of a packed house of enthusiastic listeners at the Bowl.
Cole’s performance was driven by dynamic musical energies. Whether she was singing standards such as “Stardust,” “The Very Thought of You” and “Smile,” or some of the Latin songs that have captured her attention recently, she displayed the consummate entertainment abilities that have characterized her work for decades.
Arriving on a stage as a bundle full of confident excitement, her skills were functioning at a velocity that never diminished. Backed by the rich timbres of the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra, conducted by Gail Deadrick, as well as the rhythmic grooves of her own instrumental sextet and the empathic vocals of her trio of backup singers, Cole didn’t miss a beat along the way, finding the inner musical and emotional heartbeats of everything she sang.
True, there were a few selections with arrangements that tapped a bit too deeply into the soul and r&b stylings that have occasionally characterized Cole’s work over the years. And one can’t argue that she handles the genre with considerable effectiveness. But she was at her best when she was working in the arena of the Great American Songbook, preferably when her performances were brightened by the jazz tinges that she – like her father before her – does so well. No wonder her entranced listeners seemed captivated by everything she did.
The evening was opened by Cuban pianist Chucho Valdes. Much revered as one of his country’s most gifted musical artists, multiple Grammy-winning Valdes was also the founder of the honored Cuban jazz band, Irakere.
For this appearance, however, he played with the accompaniment of his five piece group, with bass and three percussionist-vocalists. And the setting was just right for the full range of Valdes’ rhapsodic piano style, applying lush classical passages to the more lyrical passages in his constantly intriguing improvisations. Add to that his irresistible rhythmic montunos, powerfully driven by his mesmerizing piano lines.
By the time he was finished, Valdes – as in all his performances – underscored the intimate linkages that have long existed between jazz and Cuban music.
As one of the climactic high points of the program, Valdes and Cole performed as a duo on a couple of numbers. Together, they brought a convincing array of jazz, in some of its many forms, to the far-ranging stylistic varieties of the Bowl’s Wednesday night jazz series.
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Photos by Faith Frenz.