Audio Remasterer: Mike Milchner.
Liner Note Author: Jordan Taylor.
A superb two-disc collection, the 2015 Nat King Cole anthology Stardust: The Rare Television Performances brings together some of the legendary artist's more obscure performances from his underappreciated '50s TV program. Also included is an equally as rare live concert Cole gave in Sydney, Australia in 1963. A musical variety show, The Nat King Cole Show ran from 1956 to 1958 and found Cole performing on his own and with a bevy of name artists, many featured here, including pianist Oscar Peterson, vocalist Betty Hutton, vocalist Billy Eckstine, and others. Sadly, due to the racism of the time, the show failed to win sponsors and was canceled after a 13-month run. Nonetheless, while it lasted, the show gave the vocalist/pianist a well-earned platform by which to showcase his immense abilities and magnetic charm. Blessed with a warm, supple voice and adept piano chops, Cole was already an icon by the time his show premiered. While his '50s albums were often commercial entities centered around his knack for pop melodicism, his show allowed him the freedom to explore his jazz roots. Consequently, longtime favorites like "Button Up Your Overcoat" and "Sweet Lorraine," played here with Peterson's trio and saxophonist Coleman Hawkins, reveal a fresh, in-the-moment approach. That said, Cole never abandoned his orchestral sound and Nelson Riddle and Gordon Jenkins both supplied arrangements, lending their lush sophistication to studio-ready versions of "C'est Si Bon," "When Rock and Roll Come to Trinidad," "It's All in the Game," and "I Thought About Marie." Elsewhere, Cole spars good-naturedly with Eckstine on "Life Is Just a Bowl of Cherries," and exuberantly acknowledges the influence of rock & roll with a very Fats Domino version of "With You on My Mind." The Australia concert is also a must-hear for fans, and finds Cole backed by a large ensemble giving passionate readings of "When I Fall in Love," "I'm Gonna Sit Right Down and Write Myself a Letter," and "Mona Lisa." Ultimately, while Cole will primarily be remembered for his classic studio recordings, Stardust: The Rare Television Performances reinforces just how excellent a live performer he was. ~ Matt Collar