Nigel Kennedy and his Polish
band – the whole quintet is based in Krakow
– are captured on film in this DVD recorded
at The New Morning, a club in Paris, in April
2007. Kennedy sports his accustomed gear and
a mauve tinted electric violin. The rest of
his band is a straight-ahead quartet, with
pianist Piotr Wylezol doubling Hammond organ
when required and tenor player Tomasz Grzegorski
doubling bass clarinet.
Kennedy and his band play
bop with a funky fringe. The emphasis is broadly
on the Blue Note back catalogue but the specific
compositional focus is on Duke Pearson. Kennedy’s
and the band’s arrangements retain interest
throughout; open unison passages for violin
and tenor, shifting textures through the use
of a variety of percussion, the switching
between piano and Hammond; and Kennedy’s use
of wa-wa – all these things keep the two sets
alive and combustible.
Kennedy isn’t as adventurous
an improviser as his younger compatriot Chris
Garrick and he’s more immersed in the straight
ahead business of bop – anyone who remembers
him from his days chugging alongside Grappelli
will be in for a shock – but he does play
consistently well, as his Blue Note CD with
some stellar New York players, some of the
crème de la Jazz crème, will
attest. He brings a big, viola like tone to
bear on Pearson’s Idle Moments and
digs in powerfully in the opening set’s closer,
With his engaging Franglais
introductions he leads a strong second set.
He essays pizzicati over the Hammond on Kenny
Burrell’s Midnight Blue and reveals
a couple of his own compositions. Stranger
in a Strange Land has a folkloric tint
– and Kennedy digs in with increasing passion
after Grzegorski’s bass clarinet solo. His
other piece, 15 Stones (his weight?)
is imbued with Celtic wistfulness – too much
skittering and scudding bowing maybe, but
a charmer nonetheless. I Almost Lost My
Mind, that Ivory Joe Hunter standby, gets
a rousing reading – Jimmy Smith influenced
Hammond to the fore alongside some Willow
Weep for Me licks and quasi-guitar solo
pizzicati from a grooving Kennedy. The wa-wa
comes into its own on Lonnie Liston Smith’s
Expansions, a good jazz-soul workout.
There are two encores – The Sidewinder
and the much less frenetic After the Rain.
There’s also a brief interview with Kennedy
and some film of him playing, as part of a
trio, by the banks of the Seine.
It’s interesting to be reminded
during the interview that when he was studying
in New York he played jazz in clubs with men
such as Jimmy Rowles and Ellis Larkins – no
mean feat for a young man.
Camera angles are well judged
– not always the case in clubs as relatively
small as this one seems to be. The audience
is not huge but it is appreciative. The sound
is first class and navigation throughout the
DVD is easy.
My mind turns to a Grappelli-Stuff
Smith-Sven Asmussen-Ray Nance violin summit
meeting. Why not lock Regina Carter, Chris
Garrick and Kennedy in a room with a rhythm
section and see what happens?
Until then this is a classy,
if occasionally conventional workout from
a swinging, expert group.