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BWW Reviews: ALEXIS COLE Helps Cupid Along With Romantic Valentine's Day Show at Jazz at Kitano

Saturday night, Alexis Cole continued a Valentine tradition at Jazz at Kitano with a different twist on By Request. Patrons were given an extensive list of songs from which to select favorites and blue file cards on which to write one or more choices. These were deposited in a small shopping bag. After the first person pulled out a card, whoever requested the song would draw the next. Many dedicated a number to an accompanying loved one. Cole, with John di Martino on piano and Jon Gordon on sax, spontaneously performed every song as if it had been rehearsed earlier in the day, which reflects just how good they are.

Four numbers prefaced chance selection: A mid-tempo "Witchcraft," "I've Got You Under My Skin," a delicate rendition of "A Wish" imbued with history, accompanied by dew-light piano, and "I Carry Your Heart," an e.e. cummings poem performed in tandem with, rather than set to music: ". . . And this is the wonder that's keeping the stars apart/ I carry your heart (I carry it in my heart.)" The last was too formless to evoke emotion, despite phrasing like satin ribbon and utter sincerity.

"I'm Glad There Is You" dedicated to my wife, Cynthia, was borne on four ostinato piano notes which evolved into romantic doodling. It's as if di Martino heard the tune but rather than repeating it, shared the loving husband's response. Cole doesn't so much sing as breathe on key. She brings naturalness to any lyric, heightening meaning and empathy. Occasionally the vocalist rolls a phrase around in her mouth like good wine before it fully emerges.

"September in the Rain," features phrasing with vibrato tails and multi-syllabic, octave-sliding lyrics; the latter constantly surprise. When Cole scats, and boy, can she scat, the performer is as instrumental as her piano and sax. The three take turns, playing tag--you're it! She's warm and cool at the same time."Moonlight in Vermont" was written above a note to Mia: Sorry our romantic weekend in Vermont fell through, but a weekend in New York is not all bad. The song arrives mellow, cozy, a Norman Rockwell painting.

Dedicated To Serya from Danilo, the vocal for "Cry Me a River" eschews familiar histrionics for comprehensible sorrow. Gordon's horn circles the truth, bending like a Martha Graham dancer. Somewhere in there is an unarticulated damn! During "Body and Soul," sound is so subtle, di Martino's piano keys seem to depress without the touch of a finger. Cole's smooth alto caresses.

Vocalist Karen Akers, invited to the stage from the audience, performs "Haunted Heart" accompanied by di Martino. Ever an actress, Akers conjures her love before us. "Be still . . . " she sings with a big intake of breath as if remanding herself. The song feels hushed when it isn't. Lovely.

A ripe version of "Wave" indicates Cole's affection for samba. While she stands still, her voice seems to move its hips. "Don't be afraid---she gently squeezes out the word---of loving me." Di Martino's piano sounds like a group of related haikus. Gordon's sax embroiders. The vocalist walks towards the ocean holding her sandals. And sighs.

Jazz at The Kitano
66 Park Avenue at 38th St.
February 14, 2015

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