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Three little words to describe Freddy Cole's delightful Rio de Janeiro Blue: Mellow, mellow, mellow. Consider it the other end of the spectrum from the Latin-pop hysteria of Ricky Martin, et al. Even in the throes of the propulsive, Carnival-inspired title track, Cole's vocals exude a graceful, hip intensity, something akin to Tony Bennett, but with a heavier, slightly grainier tone. It works from first note to last. Just plain gorgeous.

Where'd this guy come from? Chicago, actually, where he and brother Nat King Cole (and two more brothers, in fact) all grew up playing piano. Freddy was headed toward a potential NFL career until sidelined by a hand injury (to the benefit of jazz fans). He's lived in Atlanta since 1972. A trip to Brazil in 1978 fueled his love for Latin music, and for jazz in general.

The Latin influence threads throughout Rio de Janeiro Blue, particularly on "Deliro," a gentle Cuban bolero; the Antonio Carlos Jobim/Vinicius de Moraes-penned "Sem Voce," which Cole sings in Portuguese; and the piano-driven

"Wild Is Love."

Cole is equally effective on straight-ahead standards in quartet or quintet settings, including an irresistible reading of Cole Porter's "I Concentrate on You," featuring Eric Alexander on tenor sax, and "Words Can't Describe," a ballad associated with Sarah Vaughan.

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