The Southern Hemisphere Trio
(The Forge, Camden Town, Wednesday 11th February 2015. Review by Andy Boeckstaens)
The Forge was the perfect venue for the début performance of the Southern Hemisphere Trio, which consists of Anita Wardell, Nicky Schrire and Robin Aspland. It’s a lovely building, and its beautiful acoustics suited the up-close-and-personal style of the three musicians.
Singers Wardell and Schrire were born in the UK. The former grew up in Australia and moved back to England in 1990; the latter was raised in South Africa and returned to her country of birth last June. They met in London in 2007 when Schrire visited family en route to a New York sojourn, and have been reunited occasionally in the USA when Wardell was there to teach. Pianist Aspland’s connection to the southern hemisphere is not so deeply entrenched, but he spent six months in South Africa, worked in Australia, and has collaborated with Wardell since the late 90s. The friendship between the three of them was tangible.
The first half put Schrire in the spotlight. She wrote the verse for I’m Through with Love “because I didn’t like the original” and her pure, accurate voice shone through on In a Mellotone. Most of her selections were self-penned or related to her background. The folky Father (“…you found the secret to make an orchard grow”) – which included a great scat solo – was a reference to her parents’ fruit farm; its structure inspired by an old poem that her father taught her. The highlight came with Yise Wabant’a Bami (“Father of my Children”) by Busi Mhlongo and Lokua Kanza. The lyrics – in Zulu – were unintelligible to me, but the piece was remarkably affecting.
Wardell led the second set. “It was lovely growing up in Australia, except when it was too hot. It made me go a bit mad and listen to bebop”, she said. Lucky us! Her songs focused on American jazz – and thus, were less personal than Schrire’s selections – and her approach was assertive and adventurous. Jitterbug Waltz and Tricrotism are not easy to sing, but Wardell swung through both with a joyful flourish and showed why she is so highly regarded as an improviser. Her own lyrics set to Charlie Parker’s version of Body and Soul gave a real lift to a song that, ironically, is so frequently delivered with insufficient spirit.
Special praise is due for Aspland. He had just a few hours to learn Schrire’s compositions, yet he played as if he’d known them for years. With Wardell, he found bluesy and humorous tinges in (Newley and Bricusse’s) Who Can I Turn To? and brilliantly negotiated the corners to the rarely-heard You Turned the Tables on Me. He did it all with typical modesty, and his mastery was obvious.
Both halves were bookended by tunes that had Wardell and Schrire on stage together. Most memorable were Send Us a Quiet Night, and Schrire’s Doesn’t Everybody? which had the composer playing gentle guitar. Their voices harmonised well, but there was scope for more interaction and playfulness between the two. The Road – with music by Pat Metheny and lyrics by Wardell – ended a low-key and thoroughly enjoyable gig. As long as its members remain in the same part of the world, one feels that there is a lot of mileage in the Southern Hemisphere Trio.