For her first studio project in some years, Holly Cole decided to return to a place that holds special significance in her career: “Sear Sound Studios”, New York City. This is where her album “Temptation” was recorded, featuring interpretations of Tom Waits-Songs that caused a stir and brought her much popularity especially in Europe. For her new collection, the Torontonian singer decided to concentrate on much-loved standards from the American Songbook. Keyboard maestro and accompanist extraordinaire Larry Goldings was in charge of creating new arrangements. US studio legend Russ Titelman was in the producer’s chair. The outcome of the NY sessions was complemented by recordings done at home with a small group of old friends. The result is a jazz vocal collection for the ages. It stands as a new testament to the interpretative art of a great Canadian jazz chanteuse.
t might have seemed, she had fallen a little off the radar in recent years, but now Holly Cole is back with her new album “HOLLY”. The ambitious concept record “Night” (2012) had been the most recent work by Holly Cole, the recording artist. As a performer, however, the vivacious singer from Toronto has been as active as ever back home and overseas. So now here’s a chance for the world to get re-acquainted with one of Canada’s pre-eminent jazz voices. She is a fabulous jazz chanteuse who has been around for thirty years by now – with artistic integrity and musical quality fully intact. Nothing has changed. “HOLLY” now presents a new chapter of the story.
In Europe, it was “Temptation” which brought Holly Cole into many jazz and pop lovers’ consciousness. This 1995 album release featured her as a singular interpreter of songs written by Tom Waits (and Kathleen Brennan). A project produced by Craig Street at Sear Sound Studios, New York. A place with a plethora of great musical memories and exactly the place Holly returned to for recording the bulk of the new album, guided by one of America’s legendary names in record production: Russ Titelman (73). One of the true giants of US record production, having worked with legends ranging from Randy Newman to Ry Cooder, from Steve Winwood to Eric Clapton. As in-house producer for a major label, Russ Titelman was responsible for many classics. Now he’s a freelance producer with his own company and countless musical contacts, naturally.
Pianist and organist Larry Goldings is a member of that top league. The Boston-born keys man has also been functioning as arranger for this album. On top of the New York musical contingent, sessions took place in Toronto where old friends like pianist Aaron Davis and bass player David Piltch contributed, real pillars of the musical action on “Temptation” and people who remain soul siblings to Holly Cole to this day. Therefore, the music is many things at once. Spiritually, it’s a combination of re-encountering the past and discovering new things in the present. It’s an appreciation of long-standing friendships and of entrusting your artistry to new people at the same time. A proverbial leap into cold water as well as a celebration of distances traveled together. As a result, the music on “HOLLY” stands as a wonderfully harmonious and warm album of vocal jazz, with songs from the classic American Songbook at the center.
„Subtext is my friend…“ – that’s what Holly Cole has said many times when asked to describe her musical approach. It’s her special talent to uncover hidden emotional strands in a song. While she has never stopped working this general strategy, she doesn’t feature it as much this time around. „HOLLY“ is not a concept album like „Night“ or „Shade“ from 2003. This one is just about some great tunes, interpreted by a singer with more than just a handful of vocal shadings available. “Most of all, her playfulness and the sheer pleasure of singing to a crowd reminds me of Ella more than any past recipient,“ André Ménard, artistic director/co-founder of Montréal Jazz Festival, has said upon giving the Halifax-born singer the prestigious Ella Fitzgerald award in 2013.
This can be re-discovered or experienced anew on “HOLLY”. There’s also a pretty remarkable aesthetic unison concerning the mutual approach of Larry Goldings and Holly Cole. Both had never met before in person but hit it off in the studio. Goldings expertly brought his capacities as sensitive accompanist to the table – acquired in many years of working as keys man in James Taylor’s band and in the recording studio. Goldings has also been working within the framework of an organ trio for many years. He likes to employ a minimalist approach and does it with immense musicality. Less is more. Just listen to the vocal/piano duet on the intimate “It Could Happen To You” or the concluding vocal/B 3 combination on the sultry “Lazy Afternoon”. Trombone player and singer Wycliffe Gordon is also brilliantly featured on two vocal duets: “I Was Doing All Right“ und „I Could Write A Book“.
Unlike past projects, Holly Cole this time concentrates mostly on classics from the American Songbook. Eternal highlights from the art of pop composing, still immensely popular with jazz improvisers: „I’m Beginning To See The Light“, „They Can’t Take That Away From Me“, joined by more unusual selections like Mose Allison’s „Your Mind Is On Vacation“, which the singer is not afraid to connect to the current gender debate. But this album is not about political problems in the here and now. It’s about the joy of music, especially music featuring some improvisational freedom. Holly Cole is still a jazz singer at heart. She loves to do just a few takes for each song, to document flourishes of spontaneity, to capture the sparks between interacting musicians making mutual discoveries, to find the essence of a song and to shape it playfully. These are some of the main talents of this Canadian national treasure.
The „Canadian“ part of the album also celebrates some non-musical qualities – loyalty, empathy and friendship. It’s part of the warm kind of jazz spirit to be found here. Holly Cole has dedicated this album to her mother, who passed away recently. In the film accompanying her live album „Steal The Night“ (2011) Carolyn Cole had this to say about her daughter: „Holly has always chosen her own path.“ This continues to be true to this day. The road goes on and Holly Cole is still on it, with much expertise and a truly remarkable talent, both on stage and in the studio.
Now „HOLLY“ puts her back on the radar. A real reason to rejoice.