Thursday, March 26, 2020

Alexis Cole Reissues her Japanese Disney Album

courtesy of MC Promotions

I have to confess that Mad magazine played a significant role in weaning me away from The Walt Disney Company and the plethora of products in just about any imaginable media sailing under that flag. No matter how enticing the world of the Mouse House might have appeared on the surface, it did not take much digging to discover that this was a Garden of Eden to which only White Anglo-Saxon Protestants would feel welcome. (Anyone else would be, at best, ignored and, at worst, turned into an object of ridicule in the name of “good fun.”) As a result, when MC Promotions sent me word that Alexis Cole’s all-Disney album, originally produced in Japan by Venus Records, was being reissued for release in the United States, my reflex was to respond with a Spock eyebrow raise.

Nevertheless, the release I received included a quote from Michael Feinstein directed at Cole that made a strong case for defense, rather than prosecution:
You managed to create a Disney CD without making me cringe once at the song selections, and your interpretations are fresh as can be. Such impeccable control and style.
This reminded me that the best musicians are the ones that can turn even the most insipid content into a compelling and engaging listening experience. In this “Beethoven 250” year, we need look no further for an example than Ludwig van Beethoven’s Opus 120 set of 33 variations on a little waltz theme by Anton Diabelli, which, taken on its own, remains an outstanding icon of triviality.

This is not to suggest that, as a song stylist, Cole deserves a place in the pantheon next to Beethoven; but her album, Someday My Prince Will Come, makes a solid case that how a musical idea is interpreted always trumps what that idea initially was. The above hyperlink indicates that is still marketing the original release of this album, which took place on December 21, 2010. However, Cole’s own Web site has a Web page that is now distributing that same album as both a CD and a digital download.

While Cole herself may not be rubbing shoulders with Beethoven, her pianist is Fred Hersch, who continues to be one of the jazz world’s most imaginative musicians, capable of weaving elaborate fabrics of embellishment and counterpoint from threads of the simplest of tunes. As might be expected, Hersch is part of a trio, whose other players are Steve LaSpina on bass and Matt Wilson on drums. A few of the tracks also include wind improvisations between Cole’s interpretations. Over the course of the album, Don Braden appears on tenor saxophone, soprano saxophone, and flute; and there is also some ravishing harmonica work by Gregoire Maret. One might almost say that the instrumental interjections make for listening that is just as satisfying as Cole’s deliveries of the texts; but that would suggest that Cole does not belong in the foreground, which would be a grievous dismissal of how attentively these songs have been interpreted.

To be fair, as a result of my own personal break with Mouse House products, the only tracks on the album that were even faintly familiar were “Someday My Prince Will Come” and “When You Wish Upon A Star.” (The tracks on Second Star To The Right (Salute to Walt Disney) played by Sun Ra & his Intergalactic Arkestra were far more familiar; but that is decidedly a different story!) I would suggest that, taken out of the original context, these songs have any number of virtues to stand on their own two feet, so to speak. Cole and her instrumental colleagues have brought no end of those virtues to light on this album, resulting in jazz singing at its most satisfying.

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