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Baffling though they often are, this year's BBC jazz awards got something right by handing this singer a Best of Jazz Award "for performing in a classic jazz style". Though seldom heard on BBC airwaves, Anita Wardell is an exceptional talent. Whereas most singers bluff their way through wordless bars without making any sense, Australia-reared, Guildford-born Anita is a true seat-singer. She thinks like a trumpeter or saxophonist, creating shapely lines to suit the song's chord structure.
Her latest album, Noted (Specific Jazz), finds her writing "vocalese" lyrics based on instrumental performances that many jazz fans know by heart. Moanin', for instance, came note-for-note from Lee Morgan's memorable trumpet solo on the Jazz Messengers' Blue Note album. Urged on by Robin Aspland's bluesy chordwork and Alex Garnett's feisty alto and tenor saxes, Wardell's words and sounds fitted the line flawlessly.
Similar treatments of Autumn Leaves (using Cannonball Adderley's alto solo from the album Somethin' Else), Blues on the Corner (McCoy Tyner), What If I Don't (Herbie Hancock) and Lonely Woman (Horace Silver) were sung with such expertise that Garnett blew her a respectful kiss. Anita then announced Watermelon Man, stressing that it had nothing to do with a radio item on female sex tourism in Jamaica that she'd heard on Woman's House that morning. Pity. Some new lyrics might be a big improvement.
Jack Massarik, Evening Standard (Review of Live! On the Park, SW3)
Britain's best (and some would say only) scat-singer, Wardell embellishes a melodic line with all the fervour and harmonic rigour of a top instrumentalist. And now, like "vocalese" pioneers Jon Hendricks and Eddie Jefferson, she's fitting her own lyrics to famous Blue Note solos.
Trumpeter Lee Morgan's version of Moanin' works brilliantly and Autumn Leaves (Cannonball Adderley from the classic album Somethin' Else), Doodlin' (Horace Silver) and Blues on the Corner (McCoy Tyner) aren't far behind. With guest saxman Alex Garnett and pianist Robin Aspland.
Jack Massarik, Evening Standard
Anita Wardell's exceptional sense of time even extends to the release of her CDs, with Noted coming hot on the heels of her winning the "Best of Jazz" category in the 2006 BBC Jazz Awards. The gong is richly deserved, the singer's mercurial musicality and acute sense on improvisational freedom can at times take the breath away.
Citing Jon Hendricks as an important influence on her own style, it seems only natural that Wardell should choose to record an album consisting entirely of vocalese arrangements of 10 iconic Blue Note tracks. In the company of her regular trio of pianist Robin Aspland, bassist Jeremy Brown and drummer Steve Brown - with esteemed saxophonist Alex Garnett adding immeasurably to the mix - the singer kicks off with Art Blakey's "Moanin'". If, like me, you thought that Lee Morgan's famous solo was one that would never transmogrify into vocalese, then prepare to be amazed. Herbie's "Watermelon Man", "Autumn Leaves" in Cannonball Adderley's version from Somethin' Else, a brace of Horace Silver tunes ("Lonely Woman" and "Doodlin'"), Lee Morgan's own "The Sidewinder" - every track provides a sugar-rush of listening pleasure. A blistering collection that will sweep you up in its virtuosic embrace.
Peter Quinn, Jazzwise
Inspired initially by the works of Lambert, Hendricks and Ross, cleverly writing lyrics to classic instrumental solos, Anita initially took up the challenge by picking ten arrangements from the classic Blue Note material, then penning words to them. She is assisted here by Robin Aspland (piano), Jeremy Brown (bass), Steve Brown (drums), and Alex Garnett (saxes). A transcription of Lee Morgan's trumpet solo on Moanin' opens the record, beautifully delivered and skilfully interpreted. On Horace Silver's piano contribution for his 1957 recording of Doodlin' she faultlessly follows Silver's lyrical lines. Further examples here by Miss Wardell include Cannonball Adderley's solo from Autumn Leaves, which is uncannily accurate to the last note. Another dedication to Lee Morgan by Anita the players on the Sidewinder finds her scatting the trumpet line. McCoy Tyner's Blues on the Corner is a good enough excuse for everyone to let their hair down on a slinky 12 bar.
AJ, Nottingham Post
The worthy recipient of an accolade at this year's BBC Jazz Awards recently, Anita Wardell has emerged onto the scene with a voice and a name that lend themselves with ease to the jazz idiom. Inspired by the improvisations of the great Eddie Jefferson and the Lambert, Hendricks and Ross trio, Wardell with her debut album has made a judicious selection of songs taken from the legendary repertoire of the Blue Note label, adding her own lyrics in some cases to classic instrumentals.
Three features immediately impress: the challenging choice of material; the aplomb with which the songs are delivered; the space afforded to the band as a whole, enabling the excellent ensemble to fully explore a tune and in the process giving something of a live feel to proceedings. Among the highlights is a gorgeous rendition of Horace silver's Lonely Woman, a nice re-working of Autumn Leaves at mid-tempo pace after a balladesque beginning and a catchy club winner in Lee Morgan's Sidewinder. Anita Wardell comes across as somewhere between an Annie Ross and perhaps a female equivalent of a Kurt Elling, and the latter may well be a good role model for her to follow.
Manchester Evening News
The art known as "vocalese" consists of writing and singing lyrics to improvised jazz solos. It's difficult to bring off and, not surprisingly, few people even try, but Anita Wardell scores a triumph with these 10 numbers, all based on classic Blue Note recordings. The audacity and sheer cleverness of the best vocalese performances generate a special kind of euphoria and this is where Wardell succeeds brilliantly in her treatment of pieces by, among others, Horace Silver, McCoy Tyner and Lee Morgan. The accompanying band, led by pianist Robin Aspland, strikes exactly the right note of subtle energy.
Dave Gelly, Observer
Winner of the Radio 2 Best of Jazz award in the 2006 BBC Jazz Awards, Anita's new album has a very 1960s feel to it with lots of scat singing in these additions to 10 Blue Note classics. Vocalese is her style of jazz singing adding a new lyrical dimension to instrumentals and improvisations with the aid of her excellent band.
The songs include Herbie Hancock's And What If I Don't and the brilliant Watermelon Man with another of Alex Garland's superb sax breaks.
Evergreen Autumn Leaves also features another of Alex's breaks; while Robin Aspland's piano features on Cole Porter's Night and Day.
There are versions of Horace Silver's Lonely Woman and Doodlin' plus Moanin', The Sidewinder, Blues on the Corner, and Wonderful, Wonderful to complete the set.
The already 'noted' UK singer offers a vocalese album, lyricising jazz solos from Blue Note classics - setting agile, witty words to Lee Morgan's "Moanin'" trumpet line and stirring up the Miles/Cannonball "Autumn Leaves". This warm, refreshing record deserves the boost of her recent BBC Best of Jazz Award.
SH, Hi-Fi Review
By pure coincidence, listening to the original 1976 American issue of Eddie Jefferson's The Jazz Singer - where Jefferson's vocal work includes placing improvised lyrics to jazz classics - was followed by the new CD from Anita Wardell, who has the same bebop/scat gift and inclination. She enjoys performing vocal gymnastics while still respecting the song (as per Jefferson and Jon Hendricks, et al) as opposed to tearing it to pieces (see Whitney Houston and a thousand urban photocopies), although her ballads, which good, fail to reach the same high standards. Wardell, whose debut album Noted (Specific Jazz) has recently won the BBC's Best of Jazz Award, has a voice as clear as a Perrier with just as many bubbles.
Paul Rigby, Record Collector
Jazz vocalist Anita Wardell has been acclaimed for her unique artistry. Her style is an amalgam of the best aspects from the Holiday-Fitzgerald-Vaughan tradition of jazz singers, into which she mixes her own interpretations. A very fine vocalist who has always incorporated scat and bebop styles, she has also emerged in recent albums as a fine exponent and writer of vocalese (lyrics written for famous jazz solos).
Born in Guildford, Anita emigrated to Australia as child. Already a jazz performer whilst at Adelaide University she continuing her jazz studies at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama.
This album features 10 tracks in the vocalese style al penned by the singer. It starts with Art Blakey's Moanin' and includes Horace Silver's Doodlin', Cole Porter's Night and Day, Herbie Hancock's Watermelon Man and McCoy Tyner's Blues on the Corner.
She is now based in London and tours the UK and Europe with her trio who support her on the album: pianist Robin Aspland, bassist Jeremy Brown and drummer Steve Brown. Saxophonist Alex Garnett also features.
This is cool jazz, equally suited to a summer's afternoon as it is to a late evening after a dinner party.
Anita Wardell is an Australia-raised, UK-resident bebop singer who has been consolidating her craft since the mid-90s; she operates with a mixture of uncalculating charm, accuracy on the most devious of materials, and emotional breadth. Jazz vocal legend Mark Murphy says of Wardell: "Her bop singing, always so clear and accurate in its linearism, is even lovelier now, but what hits me is how expressive her ballad singing now is." Those judgments are supported by the music on this fine set, with a languorous band, including saxophonist Alex Garnett and pianist Robin Aspland. Wardell shows how far the overworked art of mainstream jazz vocals can still go, with fresh interpretations of Blue Note-era classics such as Moanin' and The Sidewinder, Horace Silver's Lonely Woman, Herbie Hancock's Watermelon Man and a lot more. She makes arresting falsetto departures in Moanin', develops a pensive Autumn Leaves as a double-time sax-like adventure, reins back the pathos on Lonely Woman and sounds like a gracefully glissando-gliding Mose Allison - if such a thing is possible - on And What If I Don't.
It's the kind of set that erases the clever-clever element from scat-singing - many of the lyrics adorning the famous instrumentals are Wardell's own - and it's musical all the way through.