Review: John Etheridge and Nigel Kennedy at Pizza Express Dean Street

Photo Credit: Roger Thomas. All Rights Reserved

John Etheridge and Nigel Kennedy
(Pizza Express Jazz Club, Tuesday 10th September 2013. Review by Andy Boeckstaens)

Like many top jazzmen, John Etheridge has spent his life alternating between low-key gigs with journeyman musicians, and high-profile concerts with international stars. His stature is recognised by the Pizza Express Jazz Club with an annual residency, and this year’s six-night season at the Dean Street club reflects his enormous versatility. It features performances with the Zappatistas, the Blue Spirits Trio and two appearances with the Soft Machine Legacy.

John Etheridge’s association with Nigel Kennedy dates back around 30 years, when they met through Stéphane Grappelli (with whom Etheridge was touring); later they joined forces in the younger violinist’s group in 1992. Although their relationship has been rekindled sporadically since then – including a couple of recordings – this was a rare opportunity to see them play together in a small venue.

The first of their two shows began acoustically with Da Blues, accompanied by Yaron Stavi on double bass and Mark Fletcher on drums. Django Reinhardt‘s tunes Swing 39 and Nuages were played with a restraint that contrasted with the passionate Melody In The Wind, but the highlights of the first set were Kennedy’s sublime Fallen Forest, and Etheridge’s I Saw You Passing By. Some of the finest moments came during Etheridge’s solos which were accompanied by Kennedy playing pizzicato quasi guitara. An exciting finish to the set was assured with It Don’t Mean A Thing (If It Ain’t Got That Swing).

Nigel Kennedy resisted the temptation to say anything about football; but the concert was a game of two halves. One sensed the loyalties of the crowd dividing when it was announced that the second set would be played “electric”.

Photo Credit: Roger Thomas. All Rights Reserved

The great violinist eased into it with a piece of unaccompanied (and acoustic) Bach; then the electric instruments came out for a raging So What, during which he awkwardly quoted Strangers in the Night. An understated Mood Indigo might have fitted more comfortably into the first set but there was no question that what followed was eagerly anticipated by many punters. Jimi Hendrix’s Little Wing was given a high volume and lengthy workout. Few people have the knack of upping the ante like Kennedy, and here he flew into an utterly stupendous middle section, letting rip with such gusto that even the most staid members of the audience became animated. Etheridge was grimacing with effort and beaming with satisfaction.

Both principals are clearly fans of Hendrix, so after the last “jazz” piece, Perdido, it was no surprise that Purple Haze was chosen for the grand finale. It contained another Strangers in the Night quotation (perhaps an oblique reference to the reunion) and ended to tumultuous applause with the familiar pounding riff of Deep Purple’s Smoke on the Water.

Kennedy’s presence was responsible for the high ticket price (and perhaps also the sell-out audience), although he and Etheridge shared the spotlight and were equal partners throughout the performance. Yaron Stavi and Mark Fletcher received little solo space, but were working very hard throughout. Overall, the gig wouldn’t quite gain a “blissful” rating, but it was packed with drama and excitement. A man at the front punched the air, swayed, and loudly brayed “Yeah!” or “Oh My God!” at virtually every phrase. Many of us were echoing his joy and appreciation – while managing to do it rather less intrusively.

John Etheridge – acoustic and electric guitars
Nigel Kennedy – violin and electric violin
Yaron Stavi – double bass and bass guitar
Mark Fletcher – drums

Categories: miscellaneous

2 replies »

  1. I have been a keen follower of JE for a few years We took friends for the second night (wed) and all agreed it was one of the best nights of music we had had in years. Both JE and NK were on top form so for me it got a 'blissful rating'

  2. I'm pleased to see Nigel playing some of the stuff from his album “Kafka”……………there's a lot of great music on that vastly under-rated album. How about giving “New Road” a resurrection, Nigel ? I do agree with Andy with regard to “Melody in the Wind,” and “Fallen Forest,” though.

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