Whoever decided to put Nat Cole and George Shearing together knew what they were doing. The result is just plain beautiful music. Not softly-sighing to the point of boredom or silly kids-stuff beautiful. I can’t listen to this LP enough. Cole and Shearing mesh together perfectly. It’s a shame they didn’t do it more often.
Is this hard-driving bop? Nah. It doesn’t even sound like most jazz vocal LPs. No finger snapping, no dance-worthy toe tapping. No big band in the background blaring away. Nat Cole just draws you in to the song, backed by a pianist who knows how to get out of the way. It swings in a smooth, melodic way, but not in a smooth jazz way. Mostly you hear the two men, with strings complementing the melodies in the background.
Don’t worry. Sometimes strings means schmaltz. Ralph Carmichael was in charge of the orchestration and didn’t over do it. I don’t think this LP would be as good without the strings. I suppose you could call this LP easy to listen to. But don’t categorize it as some easy listening throw away.
When Shearing does solo, it’s simply done. No showing off, no speedy runs. And he seems rather unrecorded for my tastes, he could be more up front in the mix. Nonetheless, his spare, easy style fits with Cole’s spare, easy singing. There’s a touch of a very nice reverb on Cole’s voice that brings out the depth of his voice. My German Capitol (STK 83 237, probably 1962 ) has Cole’s voice mostly panned far left, with Shearing’s piano mostly right. I rather like this. It may not fit in well with the current state of stereo mixing, which is to take everything and mix down to almost mono. And most people prefer the vocals coming from dead center. It doesn’t bother me that Cole’s vocals are coming from the left. There’s stereo separation here, thank the maker.
Many online sources don’t care for the mix on this LP, or prefer the mono LP version. It was reissued on CD in 1987, with Larry Walsh remastering it and he apparently kept the wide stereo mix in place. The more recent 2000 remaster by Ron McMaster does away with this and pans Cole’s voice into the center, but sacrifices stereo and some of the rest of the music is buried in the mix, I’ve read. There is also a Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab LP out there, too. Hell, stick with the original Capitol stereo or mono mix, I’d say. It’s cheap and out there.
Unfortunately, this isn’t the best recorded LP ever, but it’s good enough. It might be my somewhat over-used German pressing. My LP is a bit damaged and you can sometimes hear it when Cole sings. So the distortion you’re hearing (video below) is my LP, not the original recording. Perhaps the American Capitol pressings are better sounding.
Shearing opens on Let There Be Love. Just some nice tinkling of the keys, with Carmichael’s strings to compliment. Then Nat comes in with his sumptuous voice. Wow, this is really nice. The tune just flows nicely from beginning to end. Shearing continues his playing throughout and has a short solo that won’t break any records, but fills the bill. You’re really listening to the whole band here, making a song worth listening to. That’s the way this LP is.
I Got It Bad is dominated by strings but they briefly disappear and it’s just Cole and Shearing. You realize this is still essentially jazz oriented music, not elevator music for the unappreciative. You could close your eyes and imagine some far away place, with Cole singing and Shearing playing the piano at a small tavern, just for you. And you realize just how lucky you are.
My favorite is Azure Te. By now, it’s clear that Cole is one of greatest interpreters of a lyric ever. You want romantic, lush, or just a nice way to finish off an evening? This LP will do it for you. Nat himself thought highly of this record.
UPDATED! Got a minute? I fixed the distorted songs and have just uploaded a new version for you to listen to!
ALSO RECOMMENDED: George Shearing and the Montgomery Brothers (Jazzland J955 or the Fantasy OJC-040 reissue). Yea, George with guitarist Wes Montgomery! And see my earlier post on Nat Cole’s LP with Lester Young!