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David Wright reviews Nigel Kennedy & John Etheridge at Scarborough Jazz Festival

There's a real buzz in the Grand Hall as the festival headliner appears onstage, sound checking his violin through various pedals whilst joking with members of the audience. His set is delayed by half an hour, but this only increases the tension and as tonight will prove, good things really do come to those who wait.

Beginning with some Django Reinhardt gypsy jazz, Kennedy is such a virtuoso, he makes playing the violin look as effortless as blinking and shows true passion and commitment to his band and audience throughout the set.
"YEAH!", he loves saying to bassist Yaron Stavi or drummer Mark Fletcher everytime they solo, and regularly shakes hands with them or pats them on the back. Kennedy does things on the violin that look and sound beyond the reach of the most seasoned of players. His sound soars, glides and flutters around the hall like a bird (at times which he imitates) as he throws in a snatch of the sea shanty 'Drunken Sailor'.

"YEAH!" he cries out again after a dazzling acoustic solo from guitarist John Etheridge, a seasoned veteran of this style of music after years of touring with Stephane Grappelli. The famous jazz violinist is remembered on Kennedy's soaring composition about him, 'Melody In The Wind', which he recorded with Grappelli on the 1996 album 'Kafka'.

There's a real connection between Etheridge and Kennedy as they bounce off each other musically and seem to be able to anticipate what the other will play during snatches of Duke Ellington's 'Mood Indigo' or the classic 'Swing 39'.
"A guy who appreciates music and the past, but who takes it forward everytime he picks up the guitar," says Kennedy of Etheridge, who plays a gorgeous melody on his own composition, 'I Saw You Passing By'.

Kennedy extends the melodic yearning as his sound soars round the hall, teasing us with his classical credentials on parts of the transcendent 'Fallen Forest'. During its final bars, the quartet explodes like a rock band and this is almost the precursor to the second half which is, to all extent and purposes, a rock set.  Kennedy reappears with a black electronic violin and plays like a rock guitarist. As in the words of Spinal Tap's Nigel Tufnel, the amps go "up to eleven" and Etheridge lets rip on electric guitar, reminding the crowd of his fusion past with Soft Machine.

As Kennedy's violin screeches and wails like a synthesizer, we're treated to a reconstructed version of Hendrix's 'Third Stone From The Sun'. It's a truly spontaneous-feeling, almost progressive performance as Kennedy, on a Hendrix buzz, leads the band into 'Hey Joe'.

It feels like this quartet could play all night, but it's all too much and perhaps too loud for some of the audience who walk out, muttering, mid-number. With the time now at 11.20pm, Kennedy seems to be loving every moment and offers a swig of his beer to guest violinist, the Cuban-born Omar Puente, as they battle it out on another deconstructed version of the Miles Davis classic, 'So What' - a song from a genius musician that I would have liked to have seen live;right now, though, I'm just grateful I've witnessed the genius quartet that was the Nigel Kennedy Experience.

 

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