Holly Cole

Pub date February 27, 2008
SectionMusicSectionMusic Features

PREVIEW If voice has a color, Holly Cole’s gleams like rich, burnished copper. A jazzy postmodern chanteuse with a sensual, sultry bent, the Canadian performer stops into Yoshi’s San Francisco during her first United States tour in six years. Her current trio includes longtime pianist Aaron Davis, bassist Marc Rogers, and saxophonist John Johnson.

Cole has a stylish new self-titled album (Koch) in tow, recorded in New York with a nonet headed by bassist and coproducer Greg Cohen. Cohen plays music across the board, having toured with both Ornette Coleman’s free-jazz ensembles and Woody Allen’s New Orleans–style group, and he’s also worked with more eccentric pop songwriters like Tom Waits and Elvis Costello, both of whom Cole has favored on past releases like her 1995 Tom Waits tribute album, Temptation (Metro Blue/Blue Note). Gil Goldstein arranged 6 of the new recording’s 11 tunes, an eclectic bag of standards ranging from Johnny Mercer and Henry Mancini’s "Charade" to Cole Porter’s "It’s All Right with Me." At times buoyant and swinging, the record also shows Cole at her most hauntingly intimate.

Although Cole has been making outstanding records for several years, Holly Cole is the first to be domestically distributed since 1997’s pop-slanted Dark Dear Heart (Metro Blue), which included two originals, the title tune by reclusive singer-songwriter Mary Margaret O’Hara, and songs by Joni Mitchell and Sheryl Crow, among others. Cole first made her mark with savvy versions of torchy jazz standards like "Don’t Smoke in Bed," but like all great vocalists, she inhabits everything she sings: from Brian Wilson’s "God Only Knows" (off Shade [Alert, 2003]) to Stephen Sondheim’s "Loving You" (from Romantically Helpless [EMI, 2000]). Her lush, purring tones, subtle phrasing, and soulful empathy always take the songs beyond simple interpretation. Much like a great actor, Cole never lets you see the craft but reveals the shadowy dimensions of character and the essential details of the story.

HOLLY COLE Tues/4, 8 and 10 p.m., $16–$20. Yoshi’s San Francisco, 1330 Fillmore, SF. (415) 655-5600, sf.yoshis.com