CD Review: Anita Wardell - The Road


Anita Wardell - The Road
(Specific Jazz SPEC 017. CD Review by Andy Boeckstaens)


The Road is Anita Wardell’s third recording for Proper Record's Specific Jazz label, after Noted (from 2006) and Kinda Blue (which followed two years later).

Retaining pianist Robin Aspland and bass player Jeremy Brown from both of the earlier albums, Wardell has tremendous rapport with her sidemen. The drummer this time is Tristan Mailliot, who offers sympathetic and engaging support.

Opening the session with perfect diction, Wardell’s own lyrics about life’s journey (“Every step I take I savour, and gather treasures for my dreams”) are put to Pat Metheny and Lyle Mays’ Travels. It may not be the most arresting start, but it is sincere and affecting, and paves the way towards a set of interesting and frequently introspective selections. The vocalist also writes the contemplative words to Mirrors by the undersung multi-instrumentalist Joe Chambers (not Bobby Hutcherson as indicated, although it was recorded in 1963 for the more well-known vibist’s first album as a leader: “The Kicker”; Blue Note 21437). With no solos, it has a gorgeous flow and is a gentle tour de force for Wardell.

You’re My Thrill receives an unusual treatment. There’s a great contribution from Brown, a restless beat, and “vocal percussion” by Adriano Adewale. The Brazilian brings more conventional sounds to other songs, including Stevie Wonder’s evergreen, wistful Superwoman. Uruguayan guitarist Guillermo Hill also provides authenticity to the Latin-inflected numbers, including a jaunty Frevo Em Maceio by Hermeto Pascoal - with wordless vocals and Steve Gadd-like drum interludes - and Carlos Lyra and Vinicius de Moraes’ Você e eu (You and Me), which is sung in Portuguese.

As well as being a fine “straight” singer, Wardell is an improviser and thrives on sparring with front-line instrumentalists. But without any horns, this outing lacks the challenge of, say, her CD with Benn Clatworthy, “If You Never Come To Me” (Ultimate Groove UGCD12-0204). The compensation is in the enterprising arrangements by Aspland, who avoids the trap of spoiling the source in the name of individualism. Without a Song has a slightly altered melody and clips along nicely, containing a lovely unison passage for Wardell and Aspland before a terrific scat section and a majestic piano break. The rhythm of The Surrey with the Fringe on Top (which is co-arranged by Mailliot) is also spiced up. These familiar pieces do not pass by blandly.

There are several moments of brilliance, and Cy Coleman and David Zippel’s With Every Breath I Take (from the successful 1989 musical comedy City of Angels) is one of the highlights. Wardell’s intonation is stunningly accurate on a slow, tricky piece.

This is beautifully judged, mature jazz by a seasoned, well-rehearsed group, and a welcome addition to Wardell’s impressive discography.

We interviewed Anita Wardell about the album in May. It is our most popular podcast to date. 

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