Alexis Cole | Sky Blossom Review
by Jeff Becker
Alexis Cole is an award-winning jazz vocalist and maybe the most talented jazz singer to ever hold a top-secret military clearance. Her critically acclaimed career with a dozen albums as a leader may also be the best-kept secret in jazz. Cole is releasing a new project that is certain to change that as jazz fans and beyond will have a pleasant surprise when they discover this chanteuse for themselves. The album is called Sky Blossom, which is a military term for an opening parachute. The title is a nod to Cole’s military service and her credo of jumping into the unknown with faith. The album also marks the vocalist debut album for the ZOHO record label. The New York-based singer performs swinging big band classics from her time as the vocalist for the West Point Band’s Jazz Knights, including songs by the Gershwins, Lennon/McCartney, Thelonious Monk, Miles Davis, A.C. Jobim, Billy Joel, and others.
The be-bop melody of “Joy Spring” opens the set with the big band setting the mood for Cole’s warm swinging voice. Cole does an excellent job singing the melody with embellishments, accuracy, and she conveys joy in her tone. Cole’s scatting is spot-on with both harmonic and melodic relationships and swing articulation. An outstanding saxophone soli follows, with Cole singing right alongside the dexterous reeds. John Castleman performs a beautiful trumpet solo, as the rhythm section swings hard and well-written backgrounds add color. Finally, Cole and Castleman trade with the big band for a stirring display of writing, playing, and singing.
The classic Miles Davis’ composition “All Blues” is another vehicle that stages Cole’s beautiful voice singing the melody with style and scatting with horn-like accuracy. The arrangement is clever and gives Cole space to embellish the melody and freely express herself. Her choruses of scatting are authentic to the jazz style as she navigates the blues changes with ease and character. Derrick James performs an inspiring saxophone solo. The shout chorus from the big band has well-synced ensemble playing and beautiful counterpoint writing.
Sky Blossom shows that Cole is not interested in stylistic exercises; she brings an impressive arsenal of scatting, phrasing, and warmth of tone and vocal control to the big band genre. Underneath Cole’s remarkable voice, the ensemble cooks with a simmering intensity and excellent writing. Cole is among the smoldering solos on the album that are a joy to listen to and get to know. Her be-bop influence is plain to hear, and each song’s unfolding is filled with suspense and a sense of groove that snaps everything into focus. Cole is a master of juxtapositions: from surly growls to sweetened lines of soaring elegance, her soulful timbre brings each song’s story to life. Cole is a big band singer that can exquisitely render the details necessary to peak above a big band, and that is a rare quality indeed.