Singing Pretty

Hilary Kole
Birdland

You’ll have a much better time this week at Birdland in the musical presence of dreamy Hilary Kole, a girl in love with songs, who is entertaining a growing legion of fans in love with her. Celebrating her debut CD Haunted Heart with a repertoire that includes the elegiac title tune by the legendary songwriting team of Dietz and Schwartz; Irving Berlin’s immortal “What’ll I Do”; “There’s a Small Hotel” by Rodgers and Hart; and such great jazz standards as “Deed I Do,” “You For Me” and “I Didn’t Know About You,” she works in most of the 13 cuts on the record. You can also thrill to a surprise like “How Am I to Know,” an obscure ballad introduced by—are you sitting down?—none other than Ava Gardner in Pandora and the Flying Dutchman. I especially like it when she accompanies herself on the piano with clear, dusky chords and refined pauses on Alec Wilder’s exquisite “Blackberry Winter.” She also writes her own vocal lines and arrangements, and the first-cabin musicians on her CD (many of whom are with her at Birdland) include New York’s rising piano star Tedd Firth and the sensational guitarist John Pizzarelli. If her voice may not be as colorful or full of diversity as some other thrushes, her sound is polished and pure, and thank God she eschews those tired vocal gymnastics that ruin so many “interpretative” girl vocalists today. An occasional mishap like Tom Waits’ lugubrious “Old Boyfriends” is more than forgiven by the bossa nova beauty of Dori Caymmi’s Brazilian masterpiece “Like a Lover.” As soon as she gets a bit of life experience under her belt, I think she’ll gain pain. She’s already got the straight-ahead, no-apologies-necessary honesty. She’s glossy without being brassy. And it doesn’t hurt to look like a Vogue cover. She’s not exactly a tongue-twisting jazz interpolator like Sarah, Carmen, Anita or even Annie Ross; I guess you could call her a commercial pop singer of cool standards with jazz inflections. But frankly, I think she defies labels. At Birdland this week and on CD, Hilary Kole is a luscious newcomer to the cabaret scene, happily welcome and hopefully here to stay.

rreed@observer.com

Singing Pretty