Nat King Cole

The Complete Capitol Recordings of the Nat King Cole Trio [Mosaic Box]

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Music fans born after 1960 are less likely to be aware that Nat King Cole began his career as an influential jazz pianist, so much so that the great Art Tatum and the up-and-coming Oscar Peterson formed trios similar to Cole's. What this comprehensive limited-edition boxed set does is put all of Cole's jazz trio recordings, including later groups that added a conga player, selected tracks from sessions that sometimes border on easy listening, and nearly the complete contents of his well-known After Midnight album from the mid-'50s, where he was joined by guests including violinist Stuff Smith, saxophonist Willie Smith, trumpeter Harry "Sweets" Edison, and trombonist Juan Tizol. But the main emphasis is onCole's recordings from the early days, including masterpieces like "Straighten Up and Fly Right," "Sweet Lorraine," "Body and Soul," and "Sweet Georgia Brown." By listening to sessions in order, one can hear Cole gradually transform from an instrumentalist into a friendly singing pianist and eventually, a master balladeer. Of course, there are forgettable novelty tunes sprinkled in among the gems, but there are also valuable unissued tracks that appear for the first time in this set. Also, the early recordings have been pitch-corrected, as all issues prior to this 1991 Mosaic issue were slightly off. The 18-CD set is accompanied by a detailed booklet with vintage photos, excellent liner notes by Will Friedwald, and a complete discography of the contents. Unfortunately, this Mosaic box has been out of print since the mid-'90s, so it will typically fetch several times its original price when it pops up occasionally on auction lists.