Marcus Roberts' Cole After Midnight is actually a tribute to both the terrific pianist/singer Nat "King" Cole and the great composer Cole Porter. The pianist also wrote extensive liner notes explaining how his concept evolved and how it was achieved musically. Roberts avoids the predictable path in honoring Nat King Cole, covering songs both from his days as a singing jazz pianist (while omitting Cole's own classic compositions such as "Straighten Up and Fly Right") and later material when he had become a pop icon (strictly as a vocalist) during the 1950s and 1960s. Two separate elegant solo piano arrangements of "Answer Me, My Love" are utilized to open and close the CD, because Roberts couldn't choose between the two takes. He doesn't mimic Cole's piano style, offering a lush and deliberate "Embraceable You," while his snappy chart of "It's Only a Paper Moon" features two bassists (Roland Guerin and Thaddeus Expose) and drummer Jason Marsalis' crisp brushwork. Cole's influence is the most obvious in his interpretation of "Gee Baby, Ain't I Good to You." None of the pop songs from Cole's singing days are covered that often by jazz artists, but Roberts does a credible job with "Unforgettable," "Mona Lisa," and especially "Too Young," which features Marsalis' hand drumming. Roberts' one original, the driving Erroll Garner-inspired "Cole After Midnight," provides a segue between the two halves of the CD, with both Marsalis and Leon Anderson on drums. His solo of "I Concentrate on You" is very formal, while the funky "What Is This Thing Called Love" is rather refreshing. "Ace in the Hole" has a dual personality, alternating between up-tempo swing and an exotic Latin vibe, while Roberts' familiar stride style is best heard displayed in "You're the Top." This imaginative CD is highly recommended.
AllMusic Review by Ken Dryden