If truth in advertising has any meaning anymore, last weekend’s concerts at the Hollywood Bowl should have been billed “Half an Evening with Natalie Cole.” What 17,058 Bowlgoers heard Friday was, in fact, two independent concerts over two different sound systems — first John Mauceri leading another mini-seminar on American music, then Cole basking in her newfound pop standard repertoire.
For Cole, it must have been an emotional moment — her debut in an arena where her dad, Nat King Cole, was a perennial performer from 1954-60. “Take a Look,” a more wide-ranging Elektra album of mostly pre-soul pop was released last month, and coming after the eight million-selling”Unforgettable” album, dovetailed neatly with commerce.
Natalie is very proficient at this repertoire, too — thanks in part to some influential genes. She has an open, bright, rhythmically alert delivery, with touches of Nancy Wilson, a wisp of Dinah Washington edge, and some Ella scat coloring her sound.
She demands and gets suave, top-notch arrangements, which the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra played smoothly for her conductor Charles Floyd. And she has the courage to dig for sunken treasure, resurrecting rarities like the stark “Calypso Blues” from an obscure 78 r.p.m. disc made by her father.
What we don’t hear much of the time, though, is deep emotion, getting inside these songs and wringing them dry. The only genuinely heart-stopping moment was imposed from outside — when Natalie performed “Unforgettable” as a duet with her dad, whose video image appeared onscreen. When Nat held his little girl in the air while grown-up Natalie sang live — not even the hardest heart could remain unmoved.
Earlier, Mauceri and HBO continued the crusade to cement the link between film music and European classics, offering lush accounts of lyrical excerpts by Franz Waxman, Leonard Bernstein and David Raksin. These were sandwiched in between some hard-boiled Alfred Newman (“How To Marry a Millionaire”) and Mauceri’s reconstruction of Duke Ellington’s “Harlem,” the latter performed with more coherence and swagger than in last summer’s attempt. Kudos to the swinging sax choir in “Harlem”– and to Mauceri’s pertinent, personable commentaries.