June 2000

Freddy Cole - Merry Go Round
Telarc CD-83493
Released: 2000

by John Crossett

Musical Performance ***1/2
Recording Quality ****1/2
Overall Enjoyment ***1/2

[Reviewed on CD]When you're a music lover and hear the last name Cole, what first name comes to mind? To many it would be Nat, with others thinking of Natalie, Holly or maybe even "Little" Johnny. But I suspect the name Freddy Cole would not spring to the mind of many. It certainly didn’t to mine. Silly me. Freddy Cole, as it turns out, is the younger brother of Nat and, as this recording shows, he can sing and play piano almost as well as his older sibling.

When I first received Merry Go Round, Freddy Cole’s Telarc debut, I went with my initial assumption that this was Telarc trying to cash in on Nat’s fame by giving brother Freddy his first chance to record under his own name. Wrong again. A quick check of my All Music Guide To Jazz disabused me of that notion, as I found that Freddy Cole has had numerous other opportunities to display his many talents on other labels, this Telarc CD probably being his best-sounding release. (This is a guess, as I haven’t heard any of Freddy Cole’s other albums.) And this is one good-sounding disc, but I’ll get to more on the sound later. First, let’s talk musical merit.

My initial inkling that this disc might offer something more than just good vocals was when I took a look at the supporting musicians that Telarc lined up to aid Freddy Cole in this endeavor. With support the caliber of Cedar Walton on piano, George Mraz on bass, Lou Soloff on trumpet, Lou Marini on alto sax and alto flute and Gary Smulyan on baritone sax, along with Freddy himself on piano on four of the cuts, I knew that this album was going to swing -- an assumption that proved to be correct.

Right from the opening cut "Watching You Watching Me," Cole and his cohorts had me slipping into a groove that I didn’t emerge from until my CD player stopped and I awoke from my listening-session-induced stupor. And lest you think that this was a one-time reaction, forget it. I found that groove (and stupor) each and every time I tossed Merry Go Round into the well of my Rega Planet CD player, something I did more than just once or twice during the review period. Telarc has done an excellent job of programming on Merry Go Round, as there is a nice mix of up-tempo tunes followed by slower, ballad-type numbers. I particularly enjoyed Coles’ takes on tunes his older brother Nat has made famous like "It’s Impossible" and "Smoke Gets In Your Eyes." No, Freddy doesn’t cut Nat, but he does show that there is more than one way to skin these classic tunes. I rather liked it. Freddy Cole uses something of a sing/talk style with a slightly rough voice that is immediately engaging, keeping my attention throughout.

While Telarc has released this recording under its Telarc Jazz label, I can’t quite call it classic jazz. Merry Go Round reminds me more of Tony Bennett or Frank Sinatra (on a good day), not to mention Nat "King" Cole. Some people might even call this easy-listening music, but I won’t be one of them.

This is the first DSD-based recording that I have heard. DSD, if you are unaware, is Sony’s new recording process. I have neither the time nor the expertise to go into a long explanation of the process, but I will quote the liner notes:

"This CD was recorded using the Direct Stream Digital recording system. DSD is a new and improved method of converting music into the digital domain, sampling a 1-bit word at 2.8224 MHz per second. This results in a frequency response from 0Hz to beyond 100KHz, and a dynamic range greater than 120dB. Much of the added resolution afforded by the DSD process is retained in the standard CD production by using Super Bit Mapping Direct, a dedicated DSD conversion processor."

All I can say is that I found this recording to be wonderfully realistic, with instrument and acoustic sounds about as real as I’ve heard on CD. Keep in mind that this is the only sample I’ve heard using the DSD process, I’ll want to hear more DSD recordings, both by Telarc and others, before I offer up any firm opinions on whether or not the excellent sound I heard on Merry Go Round was due to DSD or just Telarc’s usual excellent recording job.

To sum up, then, this is a very nice CD with excellent sound and superb musicianship. If you like male jazz/easy-listening vocals, this disc should be on your "to get" list. If not, try and catch a listen somewhere -- Freddy Cole just might change some of your listening habits. He did mine.