Sunday night. It was a pumped queue, peopled mainly with the "we-live--well" set (all ages), that snaked back from the Jazz Tent along Queen Street heading for Morris. Explanation for the line length? The Holly Cole show had sold out. How long was it? Long enough that you felt, in it, you could possibly, while waiting, celebrate a couple of birthdays.
The wonderfully accomplished singer/pianist Liala Biali opened in a trio setting, winning over the capacity crowd with several well-played and interestingly arranged interpretations of some classic standards and, nice twist, songs by Radiohead, Ron Sexsmith and Bruce Cockburn. His bitingly political Stolen Land, whalloped up with passion, sincerity and unusual percussive and propulsive instrumental colouring from Biali and her rhythm section, provoked whoops of adulation and extended applause. At 27, the gifted, warmly engaging and stylishly elegant Biali has, without a stretch, got "It". One day soon she'll be talked about in the same breath as Diana Krall.
Following Biali, the much anticipated headliner - MISS HOLLY COLE as a highly excitable emcee announced. Four black suited musicians - a bassist, a reeds player and a drummer, ambled to their places led by pianist Aaron Davis (who has been Coles' accompanist for seemingly forever). Settled down and counted in, the stellar quartet broke into bluesy swingtime. Suddenly, above the vamp wafted Coles' distinctive alto (as stand-alone idiosyncratic as the voice of jazz great, Nancy Wison), giving Tom Waits' Invitation To The Blues a sexy sultry airing. A feeling of "Quoi?" ran through the house. Necks craned. Eyes rapid-scanned the stage. Where WAS she? Several bars and lyric lines later, Cole made a delayed entrance, sashaying, in full voice, to centre stage. Wicked. Delicious. The audience reief was palpable. She looked buoyant and dandyish - tall, poised, with regal carriage, outfitted in a black suit with form-fitting pants, white shirt with shot, flared wing cuffs, a beige men's tie knotted at the throat and black and white shoes. Her long dark hair was pulled back from her lovely almond-shaped face and loosely piled high above the nape of her neck. At song's end, she beamingly bellowed, "HALIFAX!". And had everyone in the palms of her hands.
The rest of the evening she dazzled us with a master class performance - a brilliant singer in peak form. She belted. She crooned. She cajoled. She soothed. She scatted. And was funny.
Often she prowled the stage, highlighting lyrics with liquidly expressive hand gestures, dramatic tosses of her head (and hair) and serpentine slo-mo body undulations. Robustly she powered through, with surprisingly inventive and snappy arrangements, classic standards like Too Darn Hot, Me And My Shadow, Slow Boat To China, and Ain't That A Kick In The Head (with impish lyrics such as, "Holy smokes, ain't that a stick in the spokes") . Hilariously she breathily hissed the usually bubbly Ce Sera Sera. In Coles' spiky grip, the Doris Day hit got freshly dialed back to a very slow grinding sarcastic blues number.
Finishing up a very polished, muscular, full-value, big-time show biz extended set with I Can See Clearly Now (plus two encores), she and her band received well-deserved and thunderous cascades of applause from the standing audience.
A couple of fun moments:
A young boy, I believe her nephew, about six or seven, lobbed a beachball to her on stage. Unflapped, she deftlycaught it and laughed. She then took a quick glance at the ball, emblazoned with the Montreal Canadiens' 'C-H' logo and quipped, "Definitely an "ahhh" moment and, oh look, it has my initials on it too."
Later, coaxing the crowd into snapping fingers during an upcoming number, she suddenly stopped her own finger-snapping, saying, " I gotta stop doing this, I can't snap and sing the song at the same time. (beat) And women are supposed to be multi-taskers."
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