Although Nat King Cole is chiefly remembered for his intimate vocal work on orchestrated ballads like "Unforgettable" and "Mona Lisa" (he cut an astounding 1,600 sides in his career), he was also a gifted bandleader, arranger, and pianist and his early work with the drummer-less King Cole Trio will be a revelation for listeners only familiar with the vocal hits that came later. Working with sympathetic guitarist Oscar Moore
and bassists Wesley Prince
(early) and Johnny Miller
(later), Cole set a standard for easy, intimate versatility, and his trio could stop, start, and swing on a dime. This four-disc, 106-track of rare radio recordings done for the Standard Transcription Library between 1939 and 1945 finds the trio doing a little bit of everything, from novelty numbers, standards, and Cole originals to backing other singers like Anita Boyer
, Ida James
, Anita O'Day, and the Barrie Sisters
, and it's all delightfully immediate and intimate. Early on the trio sing numbers in unison, but as things proceed on this chronological set, Cole's warm vocals begin to take center stage, and one can actually see his later persona as a singer form and take hold. That evolution ultimately led to the trio's demise, but not before they gave the world a whole lot of excellent performances, 106 of which are preserved here.