Richie Cole calls his group Alto Madness with good reason, for exuberance has always been the alto saxophonist's long and strong suit. Friday at Birdland West, he showed that while he has relaxed a little and is not the wild and crazy musician he used to be, he still delivers mainstream jazz with more pizazz than precision and passion, and thus with less than optimal emotional impact.
Displaying a vibrant, often-pleasing sound and a crack technique, Cole led his band--Art Resnick on piano, Marshall Hawkins on bass, Paul Lagos on drums--through what could have been a very appealing program had there been more groove and less glitz. For example, on "Confirmation," the leader played both phrases that were smooth and swinging and lines full of oddly placed hither-dither flurries. On "When You Wish Upon a Star," the gentle spirit of the tune was knocked askew by Cole's boisterous approach.
The altoist was in better form on "Desafinado"--played as a medium-fast 4/4 tune rather than as a bossa nova--where he played swift yet mellifluous lines. Sans Cole, the trio scored with a somber "Nardis," where Resnick used a Bill Evans-ish touch, rich chording and space between statements to great effect.