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Monday, March 2, 2015 |  Madison, WI: 26.0° F  Overcast
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Richie Cole plays manically exuberant jazz
Happy madness

Richie Cole has released a few different albums with "madness" in their titles. For the alto sax veteran, the word doesn't signal avant-garde abrasion or emotional turmoil, but rather a relentless pursuit of the festive.

That isn't to trivialize a veteran musician whose career has included work with trumpeter Freddie Hubbard and the great drummer Buddy Rich. Cole's playing style, which he calls "alto madness," honors the warm flexibility of Sonny Rollins and the dizzying quickness of Charlie Parker. As Cole came to prominence in the '70s, his masterful playing helped show how such bebop stylings could remain vital, despite the growing popularity of fusion. And he can cool it down when appropriate - see his version of "Somewhere," from West Side Story.

Cole's playing is enviably quick and fluid, and it usually sounds unencumbered by mystery or heartbreak. That seems only natural when he digs into such giddy fare as the I Love Lucy theme on 1979's Hollywood Madness. What's strange is when he tackles subject matter that invites a darker treatment. Hollywood Madness also boasts "Waiting for Waits," surely one of the more bizarre tributes to Tom Waits. It's as upbeat as anything else on the album, and instead of reflecting on the man's sleazy mystique, vocalist Eddie Jefferson simply proclaims: "I think his music's great!" and soon launches into a vocalese solo. To make things more surreal, Waits himself shows up at the end of the track to ramble about drinking and barbecue.

On 2000's religious album Come Sunday, not even the grand old hymn "Amazing Grace" can put Cole in a somber mood. He sets the song to a reggae beat and leaps over the rhythm with flurries of notes. When Cole plays the Brink Lounge on Feb. 10, he's set to join pianist Dave Stoler, drummer Dave Bayles and bassist Jeff Hamann. Here's hoping this Wisconsin-based trio is ready for some rapid-fire interplay and near-manic levels of exuberance.

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