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15th Jan 2010, Vortex

by Chris Parker

Mark Murphy (who, as a man many regard as the world's greatest living male jazz singer, should know) calls singer Anita Wardell 'a gift from Australia', citing her 'expressive' ballad singing and her 'courage to scat a ballad or two, not unlike a young lady disciple of the Ben Webster school' in support of his opinion.

As if to confirm the accuracy of this assessment, she went straight into a couple of perky but controlled scat choruses in her jaunty, life-affirming opening number, 'It's Love', and continued in this vein throughout her performance, interspersing adventurously interpreted standards with the odd 'straight' Brazilian number or torch song.

The gig was billed as a quartet concert, however, and accordingly pianist Robin Aspland, bassist Jeremy Brown and drummer Tristan Mailliot were also heavily featured in their solo capacities, Aspland in particular sparkling in the up-tempo numbers, and (one of the evening's highlights) lightly tripping through the hospitable changes of 'If You Could See Me Now'.

As Wardell indicated in her remarks introducing the first set's closer, 'Little Boy Don't Get Scared' (a Stan Getz solo from 1951 with lyrics by King Pleasure and Jon Hendricks), vocalese is a jazz mode close to her heart, and – as an offshoot of scatting – an area in which she might be expected to operate with aplomb, so the skill and dexterity of her negotiation of the song's many hairpin bends was a delight to witness; famously prickly composers (such as Cole Porter, whose 'Night and Day' provided the basis for one of Wardell's most daring scats) might well complain that their subtle, carefully contrived lyrics (not to mention their songs' sentiments) are rendered somewhat redundant by an approach such as Wardell's, which (they would say) sees songs' melodies mainly as accommodating chord sequences and lyrics chiefly as scat-fodder, but such strictures were clearly nowhere in the minds of an audibly delighted near-capacity audience.