Australia produces some fine vocal talents and Kate Wadey certainly fits that category. Her relative youth is contrasted by a stylistic maturity and when she sings you are transported. She has a way of engaging an audience and of personalising a story. It is a communicated sincerity, a something of herself that hangs in the air as the notes fall. She makes it look easy, but I doubt that mere happenstance lies behind her skilled delivery. It was the little things that caught my attention; the flashed smile during a lyrical punch line as if inviting you to share in a hidden aside. The way she moved from coy to world-weary in an instant – changing the pronunciation of certain vowels or consonants to good effect – and occasionally leaning back on a word. Holding it just long enough for its import to hit home.
Many vocalists sing ‘The Great American Songbook’ but with such universally loved and familiar tunes, choices must be made with care. Picking a few favourites and belting them out will only set you among the pack. To add distinction a fresh interpretation is needed. These days that means a reharmonisation or taking an angular approach to the tune. There is another way, however. Make the tunes your own while still approaching them in a traditional way. This is where superior storytelling skills and subtle vocal mannerisms come into play. The ability to inject freshness while referencing the best of what has gone before. She did this, not by mimicking the greats but by communicating the essence of what made those versions timeless.
As if to underscore this I found myself thinking of Anita O’Day and June Christy. It’s not that Wadey sounded like either, but there they were, living inside her delivery. That flash of vulnerability in a sideways glance, the vibrato-less hard hitting clean tone, The sass, the time feel, the supreme confidence – it is hard to put into words but it was all there without being overt.
The other strength was the way the setlist was put together. Both sets were opened with guitarist Peter Koopman playing instrumental originals. A good warm-up for what was to follow, Wadey launching into a spirited ‘East of the Sun, (and West of the Moon)’ or the lesser known standard, ‘There’s a Lull in my Life’, which was lush and beautiful. After that a composition of her own ‘The Moon Song’ – followed by a stunning rendition of ‘The Song is You’. It could be risky to perch such beautiful standards on each side of an original but the standards were as much enhanced by ‘The Moon Song’ as the converse. The last song in the first set, while from the ‘Songbook’, is seldom sung. What a great tune it is; ‘Nobody Else But Me’ (Kern/Hammerstein), and how clever to eliminate verses from the original. In doing this the song was modernised and brought into line with modern sensibilities without needing to change a word. She also achieved this in the second set with ‘Sweet Loraine’ – singing it woman to woman – earlier referencing the belated passing of the same-sex marriage legislation in her country.
On tour with her, was expat New Zealander Peter Koopman and it was good to see him in this role. Koopman is popular here and although we have seen him in many guises, never as vocal accompanist. With a musician as accomplished as this, it is a good test to see how they perform in a supportive role. Koopman was superb – never once making it about him and giving the vocalist exactly what she needed – pushing when required of him and fitting gorgeous chords neatly beneath the lyrics. On bass was Sydney musician Samuel Dobson, alternating between standard playing and arco to good effect, a long time musical associate of Wadey’s. Local musician Stephen Thomas was on drums and as superb as always. A duo number featured Wadey and Thomas doing ‘Goody, Goody’ (Maineck/Mercer) was a treat. I will put that up on YouTube shortly – I have posted a cut of ‘Nobody Else But Me’ with this post. There are a number of very good YouTube clips of Wadey but I highly recommend that you purchase her albums. ‘Moon Songs’ & ‘A Hundred Years From Today’.
Wadey (vocals, compositions), Peter Koopman (guitar), Samuel Dobson (bass), Stephen Thomas (drums). The gig was at Backbeat for the CJC Creative Jazz Club, 24 April 2019Kate Wadey