Alto saxophonist Richie Cole, a local resident since 2014, continues to add to his prolific catalogue with Latin Lover, a set of songs arranged in a Latin jazz style. He avoids obvious classics that helped establish that genre, playing instead a batch of originals and covers, several of which aren’t usually cast in a bossa nova style.
As Cole often does onstage, he starts off with humor, before moving on to material that might be considered more serious jazz. Latin Lover opens with a brisk bossa version of “If I Only Had a Brain,” the catchy number from The Wizard of Oz. “The Lonely Bull” — the song that launched Herb Alpert & the Tijuana Brass — gets an even more elaborate arrangement, avoiding the temptation to ham it up, even when Cole’s crew maintains the brief vocal sections of the song. Neil Sedaka’s “Laughter in the Rain” might be pop fluff, but the saxophonist realizes something this writer has always felt: The tune’s well-placed key change gives it some great melodic possibilities.
Then Cole the comedian gives way to Cole the serious soloist in the later portion of the set, with several of his own compositions. “Girl From Carnegie,” with a sly quote from the Latin classic “Desafinado,” brings bossa nova to his new neighborhood. “Island Breeze,” which he first recorded in the 1970s with vocalist Eddie Jefferson, offers a lilting groove that feels especially welcome during cold winter days.
On the record, Cole is joined by the same unit that made 2015’s Richie Cole Plays Ballads and Love Songs; guitarist Eric Susoeff, bassist Mark Perna and drummer Vince Taglieri all return. Cole also adds pianist Kevin Moore to the group. Susoeff knows this style well, having led with Salsamba for several decades, and he adds crisp accompaniment and his own strong solos. Moore switches between acoustic and electric piano which adds to the ambience of the concept. While Cole can breathe fire with the faster, straight-ahead music, Latin Lover gives him a chance to bring the mood down, without sacrificing any of the impact of his rich tone.