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Holly Cole: A Night Before Christmas with the VSO

Dates: 15 & 16 December 2004, 8pm Venue: The Orpheum Theatre

Reviewer: John JaneDecorative element -holly




Main Artist: Holly Cole, vocals Featured Performers: Aaron Davis - piano; Johnny Johnson - saxophone and flute; George Koller - electric double bass; Davide Direnzo - drums

Conductor: Kenneth Hsieh and the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra
Decorative element -holly

Holly Cole
Holly Cole

With the edge of The Orpheum stage lined with red and white poinsettias, it looked set to be just another Christmas concert. But as her loyal Vancouver fans would testify -- and judging from the long line-up at the CD signing, they are numerous -- Holly Cole is definitely not a typical artist.

Ms Cole, wearing a small ivory dress and matching elbow length gloves, brought her own style and dimension to the somewhat prematurely titled concert, "A Night Before Christmas with the VSO."

Backed by an excellent four-piece band that included long-time collaborator, pianist Aaron Davis, Johnny Johnson on saxophone and flute, George Koller on electric double bass, and Davide Direnzo on drums. Cole demonstrated her incredible talent for reinventing a popular song and making it fit her own smoky vocals.

With her choice of material, Cole gave her audience a Christmas reality check. Bittersweet songs like Merle Haggard’s “If we can make it through December” and “Two Thousand Miles” served to underline that there is more to the Christmas season than jingle bells and fat, jolly Santas. There is often loneliness, heartbreak, and even hardship.

Not all of Cole’s repertoire is melancholic. She freely exhibits a sense of quirky fun with songs like the Eartha Kitt classic “Santa Baby,” “For people blessed with the spirit of getting,” and a Rock 'n Roll rendering of “Santa Clause is Comin’ to Town,” featuring the amazing Johnny Johnson on bass flute.





Cole acknowledges the need for people to indulge themselves in musical nostalgia at this time of the year and there were plenty of well-seasoned favourites to cozy up to. Though even lightweight fare like “Me and My Shadow” (which she dedicated to her recently departed Belgian Shepard, Rhoda) and the Doris Day fifties hit, “Que Sera, Sera” were given such fresh treatment, they might have been written yesterday. The Nova Scotian chanteuse’s lively treatment of “Sunny Side of the Street”, switching tempo in mid-song, allowed for some playful improvisation with her band.

Kenneth Hsieh
Kenneth Hsieh

The Vancouver Symphony, under the direction of Kenneth Hsieh, blended perfectively with Cole’s side musicians, subtly enhancing Aaron Davis’s stylish arrangements, rather than drowning the artist in a wall of sound.

It was fitting to leave Johnny Nash’s “I can see clearly now,” a personal favourite, until the end of the regular programme. The song’s inspirational theme gave some balance to the concert’s sometimes cynical focus. With full orchestral accompaniment, the singer delivered it with the exuberant optimism that its originator obviously intended.

Following a lengthy ovation, Ms Cole returned to the stage with all the musicians for a 15-minute encore, performing a pair of songs from earlier albums, “Calling You” and “Please Come Home for Christmas.”

Anyone who might have thought Holly Cole had forsaken her jazz roots after her recent foray into alternative-pop interpretations can rest easier after seeing the Halifax native’s sold-out show at the Orpheum this week.

2004 John Jane