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POP MUSIC REVIEWS

Natalie Cole Keeps It Light With Romantic Standards

September 30, 1996|NATALIE NICHOLS

"Tonight we're gonna make love to you all night long," Natalie Cole cooed to a full house at the start of her Friday concert at the Cerritos Center for the Performing Arts. But she only made good on her promise for about an hour, and the performance soared only in rare moments.

A small orchestra conducted by L.A. jazz pianist Alan Broadbent kept the mood largely bright and swinging throughout a set that consisted mostly of romantic standards, many associated with such greats as Ella Fitzgerald and the singer's late father, Nat King Cole.

Sparkling in a sequined white pantsuit, Cole was relaxed and engaging on such numbers as "Stardust" (the title track of her new album), "Teach Me Tonight" and, oddly enough, the Fitzgerald perennial "A-Tisket, A-Tasket."

Cole's crooning was sweet and smooth, but most of her words of love were hollow and unconvincing. It took a while for the show's pacing to settle down, as Cole and the band raced through nearly frantic renditions of such chestnuts as "Let's Face the Music and Dance" and "Paper Moon," before stretching out with a yearning take on "The Very Thought of You."

But, just as the "Stardust" faded, the romance took a bizarre turn, as Cole "surprised" the audience by joining with her late father's voice in a couple of "duets." The electronic melding of Nat King Cole's voice with hers may work on the new album's "When I Fall in Love Again," but in concert, it's jarring to hear her live vocals accompanied by his recorded singing. More disturbing, however, was the follow-up, when she crooned along with video clips from her first post-mortem duet with her dad, 1991's Grammy-winning "Unforgettable."

Cole no doubt intended to honor her father, but the presentation seemed opportunistic and manipulative. A better tribute to her dad's memory would have been to sing these songs herself, dedicated to him.

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