Wardell Wails… Oh Wow!

4th April 2010, Seven
Anita Wardell – vocals
Robin Aspland – piano
Zoltan Dekeny – bass
Steve Brown – drums

“Awesome venue – awesome band”

These were the singer’s first words as the band came on stage and I can’t argue with that!

Seven was laid out again café-style with the audience seated at tables and there was a good vibe in the air …. People had been drifting in until the floor was quite full and there was a sense of anticipation as the band launched into “It’s Love”…. scat vocal, piano, bass trading chops with the drums …. before moving into “Leaving the Blues”. Arranged by Robin Aspland – the song comes from Miss Wardell’s latest album – with a Martin Denny exotica type drum intro after which we were treated to more scat and a lovely piano solo, which demonstrated a special empathy between the two musicians.

“Willow Weep For Me” was taken at an adventurously quick tempo with vocals that were tangential to the rhythm …. At least that’s the word I wrote in my notes and it seemed appropriate at the time.

Following on we had one of Miss W’s personal favourites – Gershwin’s “Embraceable You”. A lovely ballad, played beautifully …. Pianist hunched earnestly over the keys.

“Get Out of Town” gave us more scat and then we had a bit of Portuguese on the first of two Brazilian songs during the set. Billie Holiday’s “Reaching For the Moon” saw the audience clicking their thumbs and fingers, as a great loping bass introduced us to the song. Vocals and piano solos took over before returning to an ace bass solo.

The closer of the first half was “Don’t Get Scared” – music by Stan Getz, original lyrics by King Pleasure, latterly Jon Henricks. This was a very fast bebop, which included a great drum solo and vocals again trading with drums.

The first half had gone quickly ….

Anita came out early to draw the raffle – which again I didn’t win – and then we were up and running with Blossom Dearie’s “They Say It’s Spring” which included some neat use of hands on drums.

“You’re My Thrill” is a 1933 song composed by Jay Gorney, lyrics by Sidney Clare. It has received the treatment from both Billie Holiday and Peggy Lee – but tonight it was Anita Wardell’s turn, backed by some strong angular chords on piano.

A haunting piano intro led us into the lyric “Blue Was Just the Colour of the Sea”. Don’t know if that’s the title of the song, but no matter – it was good.

I did recognise the next tune though – “They’re writing songs of love, but not for me/A lucky star’s above, but not for me” – my favourite jazzman Chet Baker has done a version of this. Song and lyrics by the Gershwins, written for the musical “Girl Crazy” where Ginger Rogers first sang it, Anita scatted before each of the musicians took a solo.

Next up was the second Brazilian tune of the evening – Carlos Lyra’s “You and Me” with some more hand-drumming.

Miss W. then reminisced of an occasion, when as a child, she had seen Sarah Vaughan at The Sydney Opera House singing Tad Dameron’s “If You Could See Me Now”.

Googling the two names, it appears that Miss W also supported Sarah as well at the same venue …. So I may have misheard there, however this evening Anita gave us her version of that beautiful song. It was one of Sarah’s first signature songs and I’m sure that Sarah would have been proud of Anita’s rendition.

The last song was “Night and Day” from the “Noted” album before the band left the stage to loud applause. Encouraged back for an encore, after asking the audience what they wanted – fast or slow – Anita plumped for Sonny Rollins’ “Oleo”. Taken at breakneck pace …. It was faster than I can think – so how does she do that?

To quote Norma Winstone on Anita Wardell – “…unexpected vulnerability makes her reading of the ballads both beautiful and touching. Her honesty shines ….” That is quite a compliment from such a highly respected source.

That sentiment was reflected in this gig, but the interaction of the group was great – sympathetic, soulful piano, beautiful swinging & inventive bass, with drumming which veered between red-hot and sweet swinging brushes.

To my ears, there is a world of difference between a voice trying to sound like an instrument and a voice scatting the notes of the instrument.

For me, Anita Wardell does the latter. She is a bebop musician at heart I reckon having not only listened to her Dad’s big band albums as a child, but during her teens absorbing such diverse influences as Clifford Brown, Bird, Ella, Mark Murphy, Carmen McRae, Betty Carter and Jon Hendricks.

The gig was great fun and Anita Wardell comes over as a warm person who has a great rapport with her band. She sings – and they play – from the heart.

Another winner for Seven Jazz – come back soon Anita. It may be “grim up North” but we know what we like at Seven and Seven likes Anita Wardell!