Pianist George Shearing re-creates the instrumentation of the classic Nat King Cole trio on this 1995 session, but, rather than try to emulate the original performances, he wisely offers his own perspective on Cole's repertoire.
Shearing, who collaborated with Cole on the successful 1961 date Nat King Cole Sings/George Shearing Plays, counts Cole as an early influence and inspiration. For these 14 pieces, he combines his own elegant touch, elements of Cole's style -- including a pianistic approach to Cole's singing style -- as well as some of pianist Teddy Wilson's boppish swing. The most distinctive piece is a highly impressionistic version of Cole's 1948 hit "Nature Boy," which Shearing performs unaccompanied.
Cole's trio was propelled by the energy and drive of the guitar and bass. Oscar Moore's guitar, and later that of Irving Ashby and then John Collins, was key, both for rhythm and as a solo voice. All three guitarists had a vintage, amplified sound noted for its warmth and sustaining tone. Shearing's guitarist, Louis Stewart, relies more on the natural tone of the guitar itself. His rhythm work is not as dynamic as Moore's, but it fits well with Shearing's conception. Longtime Shearing bassist Neil Swainson provides a solid foundation for the group and has a balanced, well-recorded presence in the mix. The performances generally run a good bit longer than the originals, giving the trio room to stretch out on several tracks.
Comparisons are inevitable, but, ultimately, Shearing's work here must stand on its own merits -- which it does in this fine, relaxed trio outing that takes a genteel, drawing-room approach to the Cole sound.