The essential Nat King Cole -- What we think of the recent reissues from the crooner

By Gary Giddins
August 09, 1991 at 04:00 AM EDT

The essential Nat King Cole

These compilations and reissues — all but the last two released during the past year-represent a good sampling of Nat ”King” Cole:

The Nat King Cole Story
A two-CD sampler, heavy on lusterless ballads, but notable for five selections by Cole’s early jazz trio. B+

The Complete Early Transcriptions of The King Cole Trio: 1938-1941
These four CDs of radio performances are heavy with jivey novelties, showing Cole in his formative years and documenting the kinds of songs popular with black audiences in the era before R&B. B+

Nat King Col Trio: Jumpin’ at Capitol
A first-rate collection of the trio’s best known recordings. The autonomy of Cole’s piano playing while he sings is amazing. A

Nat ”King” Cole: Love is the Thing
The ballad crooner at his peak in 1956, swamped in Gordon Jenkins arrangements for strings, but singing the most evocative ”Stardust” ever. A

The Complete After Midnight Sessions
Don’t let the harsh sound of this early CD keep you from hearing a 1956 jazz masterpiece. The Cole piano never sounded better, nor did the Cole voice. A+

Just One of Those Things (and More)
Superb swinging 1957 and ’58 versions of standards, arranged by Billy May with plenty of dazzle, though ”A Cottage for Sale” makes no sense at all sung so fast. A