Freddy Cole Quartet

by Mike Joyce, Washington Post
August 2, 2008

Whether crooning a romantic ballad that quietly evoked his family ties or swinging as nonchalantly as someone without a care, singer-pianist Freddy Cole turned in a charming, seemingly effortless performance at Blues Alley on Thursday night.

Despite his own prolific recording career, Cole could delight some listeners by spending all his time onstage paying tribute to his older sibling, the late Nat King Cole. Over the years, however, he's developed an engaging repertoire that blends pop and swing standards with fresh, casually delivered novelties that mirror his genial spirit.

Fronting an agile quartet, Cole kicked off Thursday's opening set with a dreamy collection of ballads, delivered in a hushed baritone, before moving through a program laced with colorful contrasts, from the ruminative "Blame It on My Youth" to the effervescent "On the South Side of Chicago." Cole occasionally sang without accompanying himself, relying instead on guitarist Randy Napoleon's resourcefulness. But more often Cole punctuated his performances with a mix of soulful harmonic accents and bright, single-note-driven choruses.

Napoleon, a young, swing-centric guitarist who could pass for John Pizzarelli's younger brother, was accorded plenty of solo space, revealing an exceptionally nimble finger-style technique. Rounding out the quartet, and often producing a buoyant swing pulse, were bassist Elias Bailey and drummer Curtis Boyd. The engagement runs through tomorrow.