There are jazz singers, and then there are musicians who play the voice. Think of Louis Armstrong, Billie Holiday and Bobby McFerrin. In Australia think of Kristen Cornwell - although not for much longer, as this was the gifted singer's last Sydney performance before moving to Belgium.

She used it to launch a new CD, Spiral, only her second after a decade of maintaining a saxophone/guitar/bass/drums band with minimal changes to the line-up.

This homogeneity in collaborators reflects not just their loyalty, but a unified vision, a band sound. Cornwell even lists herself alphabetically amid her band members on both albums.

Such a vision allowed Fats Waller's Jitterbug Waltz to be something other than just a singer essaying a beautifully written, much-loved standard. In performing it wordlessly with such vivacity, and then in improvising with an intensity that never lost that vivacity, Cornwell made Jitterbug as much her own as any of her originals.

Her accuracy of pitch was nothing short of sensational when scatting; leaping effortlessly across intervals that would suck a lesser singer into a chasm of embarrassment.

Nor does her voice have any harsh or ugly transitions or registers, and she controlled dynamic shifts organically, without radical, intrusive manoeuvres with the microphone.

Homer tells us that Calypso the Nymph was "singing in a beautiful voice" when Hermes finds her in The Odyssey, and Cornwell has reinvented Susan Vega's Calypso - telling of Odysseus's visit from the solitary Nymph's perspective - with a siren-like wordless introduction.

The rhythmic sensuousness woven by bassist Brendan Clarke and drummer Fabian Hevia cushioned a glorious tenor saxophone solo from Sandy Evans, while the guitar of newcomer Ben Hauptmann sounded uncannily like a steel drum behind Cornwell's tender farewell.

Voice and soprano saxophone entwined to soaring effect on the leader's fervent love song, Distant Skies, while her Isobel (written with David Theak) furthered the delightful legacy of songs inspired by children, catching both their innocence and effervescence.

Clarke, one of our most propulsive bassists, plunged What a Little Moonlight Can Do (from Cornwell's previous Sea Journey CD) into motion for a swinging treatment from the singer.


The sound of jazz singer Kristen Cornwell resides in an open field just this side of Nirvana. Her voice is a call to the gods, a journeying entity steeped in refined passion Cornwell¹s band is a cracker, but it¹s that enchanting, soulful, other-wordly voice that will doubtless be the centre of attention. For cutting edge vocal-tilted music this is the Oz band to see.

Craig N. Pierce ­ Drum Media, May 16th 2000

Kristen Cornwell is devestating. So in tune, so wonderfully musical, such a compact but projecting tone. So exciting!..

John Clare ­ Jazzchord, June/July 2001

Cornwell is a very accomplished and imaginative singer/songwriter whose quality of work allows her to attract some of Sydney¹s finest players. Her overwhelming strength is her sheer musicality. She creates the illusion of suspending time, of notes floating over the accompaniment like shadowless clouds. She has good pitch and when she wordlessly improvises, is prepared to take harmonic risks that are pulled off with such aplomb that perhaps they were never really risks at all.

John Shand ­ Sydney Morning Herald, April 15th 1997

…hypnotic and euphoric…

Gail Brennan ­ Sydney Morning Herald, November 19th 1993

CD Reviews.

KRISTEN CORNWELL QUINTET - SEA JOURNEY Adrian Jackson - The Bulletin, January 30th, 2001

With her attractive voice and fluent style, jazz singer Kristen Cornwell has been winning fans on the Sydney scene for several years, but wisely chose not to make an album until she was ready. Here, she comes across as an artist in control of her material, able to invest meaning in songs as diverse as The Beatles' Blackbird, the old standard I'll Remember April and a handful of originals. Whether singing lyrics or flying without words, Cornwell sounds at ease in the company of strong players such as Sandy Evans, Jeremy Sawkins, Adam Armstrong and Fabian Hevia.

HIGH-WATER MARK John Clare - Sydney Morning Herald, November 4th 2000

A good singer can certainly give you a thrill. Kristen Cornwell is more than good, and in her case it's a very musical thrill. Her voice does not carry excessive personality indicators. The pronunciation is somewhere around neutral, avoiding the frightful niceness of a Julie Anthony song or the affected funkiness, jazziness or torchiness that lie at the other extreme. The emotion and the sensuality of the line is what goes straight into the blood stream - plus a thrilling tone and fabulous rhythm. Apart from being one of the best singers around, Cornwell has pursued some of the potential for exotic vocal lines and settings suggested by a handful of recordings by Duke Ellington, Ornette Coleman, Archie Shepp and a few others. Similarities with the above are in fact distant, but Cornwell has taken her cue from their sense of colour, adventure and fable. In fact, she has taken her title song from Chick Corea. Others in this vein are her own or the work of locals such as Michelle Morgan, Jonathon Zwartz and Jane Lindsay. Then there are a couple of standards on which she swings like mad, and Lennon and McCartney's 'Blackbird' - which is a standard too, of course. On this one she improvises some beautiful lines, avoiding hackneyed scatting. The settings are collaborations between Cornwell and her stellar ensemble: Sandy Evans (saxophones), Jeremy Sawkins (electric and classical guitar), Adam Armstrong (bass) and Fabian Hevia (drums). Evans's solos are among her very best on record, but attention should be drawn to the colorful guitar work of Sawkins, who is a major voice on the electric instrument. A disc like this answers any questions about direction - or lack of it - in Australian contemporary jazz. This is a band, which just happens to be led by a singer, with a sound and feeling all their own. Look out for them performing live.

MUSICIAN'S SINGER' DOES IT BRILLIANTLY Michael Foster - Canberra Times, July 9th 2001

Cornwell demonstrates her range of talents in this recital of her compositions, collaborations, other Australian originals and other gems...Cornwell's sense of timing and tone is impeccable and she achieves an entirely appropriate emotion, whether inducing melancholy, humour (however sly), or anything in between. Her enunciation is clear and precise, whether in standard verbal communication or vocalese, matching the easy-flowing precision of the other instruments. The collaboration between herself and Evans is that of musical soulmates, especially in their joint work, Your Touch. It is evident equally with the other musicians. The album was produced in collaboration with Jim McLeod's ABC program Jazztrack. In his liner notes McLeod refers to Cornwell's pleasing sound and exceptional musicianship. "A musician’s singer" with "an extraordinary ability to treat her voice as a jazz interpret lyrics. It may be what every jazz singer should do but Kristen does it so brilliantly.” Quite.

SPIRAL - Tony Magee. Australian Performing Rights Association 2005

Australian jazz singer Kristen Cornwell’s second album is here. Now based in Belgium, the singer has called this one Spiral, and it combines some familiar standards from Cole Porter, Rogers and Hammerstein and Fats Waller, with her own original compositions (sometimes with David Theak) and also a fabulous piece from Suzanne Vega entitled Calypso.

Let’s start with that one. I was captivated as soon and the intro oozed in. This is a spine-tingling arrangement. Given a smooth slinky jazz rendering by the band. Haunting yet somehow gentle and peaceful. Speaking of the band, Cornwell has once again surrounded herself with some of the best Sydney musicians available. Brendan Clarke on bass, Sandy Evans on tenor and alto sax, Fabian Hevia on drums and percussion and Jeremy Sawkins on guitars.

The album opens with a funky slightly samba style version of Cole Porter’s timeless classic, Love for Sale. This must be one of the most recorded songs ever written. Everyone seems to want to give it their own treatment – mostly because of the lyric I suspect (listen and you will learn) - and it stands up to so many. One of the hallmarks of a good song I think. In the hands of KCQ, it builds and travels with great style and ease. Delightful.

Of Cornwell’s own beautiful and inventive originals, Lies is a sublime slow bluesy feel. For Isobel delivers a wafting, leaf-in-the-breeze like melody with backing to match. Smiles and Tears is an up tempo swingin’ scat doubling piece, featuring stylish and cheeky solos from guitar and sax. River is a superb ballad, with wonderful lyric and melody, showcasing Cornwell’s voice brilliantly, as she soars and floats effortlessly through it. Ten tracks in all..


© Kristen Cornwell 2018