NY Cabaret Review by Alix Cohen



Hilary Kole’s infectious joie de vivre breezes into every corner of the intimate Café Noctambulo. “While We’re Young” is plumy. Kole gift wraps the expansive lyric in subtle octave changes like meticulously curled ribbon. Easy and welcoming, she exhibits no trace of warm up. From the get-go, every note and phrase emerges splendidly controlled, clarion clear.

Hands on hips, eyes crinkled, a sassy “I Love You Madly” is sung to an unseen lover as if dialogue. Virtuosic scat confirms three musical instruments onstage. The lady can vocally loop de loop, twirl, dive and flip with precision and flair. Adam Birnbaum’s piano corroborates her playful attitude while Paul Gill’s articulate bass waits for private conversation with the artist. Both musicians present skill and brio throughout.

Up-tempo interpretations of “I Remember You” and “I’ve Got the World on a String” (the latter performed 1331 times in Our Sinatra) are also eloquently scat happy. Listen to where accents are placed, where sounds are sharp or muted. Watch the artist’s left hand play the mike stand like a bass (or piano?) Fun.

Hardly a one trick pony, Kole fulfills the first of several audience requests – “dark Sondheim” with “I Remember Sky,” a simply beautiful, lesser known song from Evening Primrose. We hear a marriage of jazz and theatrical cabaret accompanied by her own classically influenced piano; shadows of longing, both airbrushed and powerfully moving.

“Blame It on My Youth” contains tiny, wistful vocal catches. The word “heart” is hushed; “youth” lengthened, savored, remembered. Though performance is never less than confident, the song’s shaken, emotional message remains persuasive. Something similar occurs with the iconic “Good Morning Heartache.” No dropped “g” here, Kole is ever the refined jazz baby eschewing images of poverty and/or black experience often emulated. Still, the meaning resonates as much as her musical moan.

“Who Do I Belong To?” (David Hajdu/Renee Rosnes), premiered at this show, reflects both Joni Mitchell and Bruce Springsteen. The cinematic, blue collar, New Jersey story is bracketed by a terrific hook. Textural, muscular music carries the scenario. Here, Kole shows a talent for vocally slip-sliding blues. Her pithy delivery collaborates with the composition to great effect.

As often occurs at Café Noctambulo, artists in the audience are persuaded to perform. Tonight Karen Oberlin sings her favorite love song, “The Very Thought of You” with creamy overtones. The room warms equally to vocal timbre and sincerity. And eternally young, dapper Ronny Whyte (not at the piano) offers “Yardbird Suite” with impeccable insouciance and deft, rhythmic savvy.

Hilary Kole reminds us what fine jazz was and can be. And she does it with style.

The Café, on my second visit, retains its initial impression: comfortable, good looking, and well run with imaginative, restaurant, not club quality cuisine.

Hilary Kole

Adam Birnbaum- Piano; Paul Gill-Bass

Every Wednesday night at Café Noctambulo at Pangea

178 2nd Avenue (betw 11th & 12th Sts)