The Ukulele player and the singer

Another Friday and another trip to Chichester Jazz Club to hear live jazz music. 17th March had two performances on the bill, a half hour set from the Matthew Quilliam Band followed by two sets from vocalist Anita Wardell. The Matthew Quilliam Band featured Matthew Quilliam on the ukulele, Harry Wells at the piano, Hannah Spires playing alto sax, and drummer Tom Sutcliffe. These young musicians are students of Chichester University and they played an engaging, fun set of originals and covers.

Matthew Quilliam wrote ‘Inspiration’, the opening number, which sounded like it had borrowed phrases from ‘Tea For Two’. It was a lively opener and interesting to hear the ukulele/sax combination, which I thought worked quite well. This was followed by ‘Ritz Cracker’, another up tempo number that worked well. The tempo was slowed down fro the bands version of ‘Happy Talk’ with Matthew on vocals, backed very nicely by Harry at the piano. I enjoyed the sax line on this number with Hannah’s phrasing standing out.

‘Midnight Latin’, another original, was taken at a sedate pace that placed the focus on the composition. The band played well here and set up the set for a grand finish with ‘Take The A Train’. This was a spirited take on this oft performed jazz standard and gave Harry Wells an opportunity to shine from the piano. The MC for the evening called for an encore and we got George Formby’s ‘When I’m Cleaning Windows’, which the audience thoroughly enjoyed. Credit must be given to Hannah Spires who provided the jazz element to what is a novelty song. I have to applaud Chichester Jazz Club for giving these budding musicians an opportunity to play and I will be following up another gig that Hannah is putting on at the University 21 March, 2023.

Hannah Spires – sax and Matthew Quilliam – Ukelele

After a short interlude we moved on to the main act, The Anita Wardell Quartet. I have to admit that I have not heard of Anita or her music even though she has appeared at Chichester Jazz Club before. I looked her up and noted that The Guardian newspaper proclaimed her “a model of the Jazz singer’s art”, highlighting her clarity, improvisational skills and emotional resonance. Unfortunately, for me, those qualities were missing from this performance. However, Anita is also noted for her scattting, to which I can attest.

Anita was backed by Simon Robinson at the piano, a late deputy for Ross Stanley, Jeremy Brown on bass, and drummer Steve Brown. This trio of musicians were very good with pianist Simon Robinson standing out. All emotional content came from Simon with Jeremy Brown playing some terrific bass lines and Steve Brown providing the pulse that permeated through the set. I have already referenced ‘emotional content’ and for me that was what was missing from Anita’s performance: she sang the words but did not come across as connecting with the lyrics or the music – this was most noticeable in songs like Cole Porter’s ‘Love For Sale’, which should come across as sultry and enticing: it did not.

Much of Anita’s vocal work was in the upper register with little in the way of noticeable vibrato, which left the sound with a one dimensional feel about it. The way that Anita used the microphone had an air of affectation about it that I found distracting. Anita made good use of her ability to scat and it was only here that I felt her warmer tones came through as she moved around her vocal range and away from the upper register. A rather disappointing set from Anita but her backing trio were very good and I shall definitely look out for more from Simon Robinson.

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