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Review: Nigel Kennedy

Some interesting ideas start at the 606. Nigel Kennedy ‘s new, three-electric-violin “Chilling-est Violinists” or “Big Jam” project was conceived at the club, when Kennedy sat in at a gig by club regular, violinist Chris Garrick.

But this is Christmas, the time we are all reminded – sometimes positively, sometimes forcibly- that nests are there to be outgrown. This rebellious romp may indeed have already outgrown the parental home at birth. It seems clearly destined for bigger spaces, for summer festivals, for the outdoors.

The 606 was packed last night with jovial pre-Christmas folk in the mood for a celebration. Nigel Kennedy, who had donated his fee to Medical Aid for Palestinians, bounced onstage, presented violinists Omar Puente and Chris Garrick, ever-impeccable, ever-smiling bassist Alec Dankworth and drummer Krysztof Dziedzic to the audience. Every introduction led to an obligatory fist-bump. And finally: “My name’s Nigel and I’m doing very well.” Fist bump for the audience. Loud cheer.

Soloing duties were democratically shared out between three violinists, particularly in Nikki Yeoh’s happy opener Dance of Two Small Bears. Garrick and Puente were heading off in interesting and different directions. Puente was exploring high sounds, quoting Bolero, being playful, Garrick seemed most content using pedal effects and reverb. But the guiding style they were tending to follow and imitate was Nigel Kennedy’s. He tends to cut impatiently to the chase, and that chase is a sound derived from the Hendrix guitar wail. Repeated downward double-stopped glissandi at high volume, fast tremolandos, ear-splitting eeks. There were the occasional gentler moments, such as the opening to Kennedy’s Hills of Saturn, but you didn’t have to wait long for the rocket-boosters to get switched on. The audience loved it, I can imagine a standing crowd at a festival lapping it up even more. I found it overpowering.

The main meat of the second set, which I felt really asserted the loud, rebellious core vibe of the band was Kennedy’s arrangement of Third Stone. 40 minutes might be fast for an orbit, but last night it seemed a bit too long. At one point Kennedy the rabble-rouser was facing back, eyeballing drummer Krysztof Dziedzic, as if egging him onwards to play out even louder.

But I did enjoy Omar Puente’s Just Like “U” which kicked off the second half. It started with some rim-shots from Dziedzic, a jaunty bass line from Alec Dankworth, a sassy montuno from Nikky Yeoh, and then all three violinists trilling, a wash of sound. The composition then found its way to a theme resembling Average White Band’s Pick Up The Pieces, which then morphed into a low-down double-time slow blues. Nikki Yeoh capped off her solo, laughing her head off, with who-cares palm clusters. There are musicians who just can’t help themselves from having fun, and Yeoh is one.

An interesting first outing.

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