- River Man*
- Silver Lining
- The Empty Bottle
- 4th Glass
Nigel Kennedy (violin, vocals, extra keyboard)
Tomasz Grzegorski (saxophones, clarinet, vocals)
Piotr Wylezol (piano and organ)
Adam Kowalewski (bass, vocals)
Xantone Blacq (percussion)
Boy George (vocal)*
rec. November 2009, Rockwood Studios
This is something of a disappointment. Kennedy has been active with his quintet for a good while now, and I've written before about some of the results, about which I was broadly encouraging. But this disc seems to me wholly retrogressive, its sharpness and tartness smoothed over, and its ethos aimed at a mellower and laissez faire market.
It's true that Kennedy extracts a good nice, dark tone from his electric violin, and that, in Transfiguration, his instincts take him to the foothills of Hillbilly in his solo - no bad thing to have in one's folkloric arsenal - but he is tempted to his by now expected Hendrix-drenched excursions and these are proving increasingly predictable. One of the problems in these largely self-penned pieces is that they are stronger on atmosphere than structure and memorability. Silver Lining is effective but lacks a tune. 4th Glass starts well but is soon Jazz-Rocked into oblivion, its unambitious mien frankly becoming feeble. Oy! bids fair to be one long acid trip with funk tendencies - Tomasz Grzegorski, the saxophonist, going through the tropes - and with thunderous drums to the fore. The throbbing bass line and rock guitar thrashes from the leader do nothing to alleviate the regimented and curiously old fashioned vibe.
Some relief comes in the shape of Boy George whose rather hoarse, appealing vocals on Nick Drake's River Man takes the set in a wholly different direction. The arrangement here is fine and focused and it throws into stark relief the sprawling, babbling, jejeune dilettantism to be heard elsewhere.
Dominy Clements has also listened to this
In Mr. Kennedy’s own words Shhh! carries on from his A Very Nice Album but shorter.
Krzysztof Dziedzic has taken over from Pawel Dobrowoski on drums, but aside from this the lineup remains the same for both albums. The whole thing has a deeply studio feel, with the violin sound having the kind of processed quality which one should probably expect from an electric instrument, the pay-off in terms of flexibility becoming apparent with a plethora of added, and occasionally interesting effects.
Transfiguration starts with a kind of ‘alarm call’ in minor thirds which jump an octave to arresting effect. Nice initial solos are ‘transfigured’ into distortion, which shows how an electric violin can be made to sound like a virtuoso electric guitar. River Man rolls along amiably, with Nige’s mate Boy George showing he can give a gravelly jazz vocal with the best of them. The violin takes very much an accompanying role here, with the guitar and gently paced percussion providing transparent sonorities which avoid distracting from the lyric. Silver Lining is one of those numbers which revolve around extended bass pedals, kept together nicely with a bed of string harmonies and some decent piano riffs. This leans towards but doesn’t quite achieve the same level as Oscar Peterson’s Wave, becoming a bit too dirty with the now perhaps inevitable distortion violin popping up when we hoped we’d gotten away with it this time.
Shhh! the title track is a slow and atmospheric number with a nice see-saw harmonic movement, the kind which is another basis for good solos. Kennedy provides a fine and understated line with some attractive echo effects and the track starts with a good deal of promise. Ultimately this turns into not a great deal more than relaxing background sounds for a classy restaurant, though the tuning of the saxophone may make you think more of lemons than of crème brulee. Mercifully short, The Empty Bottle has a sentimental title and is a drippy maudlin number which wants to become ‘The Other Woman’, but will always remain an empty vessel. It doesn’t do much for me, especially as the sax is still damn sharp – pull that head-joint out a bit man. 4th Glass starts in 1970s restaurant mode and really isn’t worth its almost 10 minutes of rather aimless meandering, despite another ‘so what?’ build-up and stock increase of activity and intensity as the recordings wears on. There’s nothing much wrong with this kind of music, but it doesn’t swing a great deal or break into anything particularly interesting. Described as a ‘dirty funk rock outro’, Oy! certainly has the impact of contrast, going for drive and distortion from the outset. I was hoping for something subtle and Jewish here given the title, but the vocals are football crowd cries, and there’s no variety in the rather banal bass theme other than in the coda. The overall impression is something we’ve all heard a thousand times before, with roots in 1970s prog-rock and a myriad of crossover stereotypes.
I get the title to this album now. It’s restaurant music, but when they play it the diners all say “shhh!” I was encouraged by the first few tracks, but feel let down by the rest of the album. With production in the hands of Paul Inder, son of Lemmy out of Motorhead, the ‘hard rock’ sounds are convincing enough, but these elements never pull free from the constraints of formulaic jazz structures, and neither does the jazz element feel released from crossover synergies which have been around for donkey’s years. None of this would matter of the material was strong enough to resist focus on peripheries, but it only hits about 40% success rate which is admittedly better than most pop albums. Like the cover art, a rather lame pun on Roy Lichtenstein’s ‘Wham!’, the whole thing ends up falling somewhere in between fish and flesh, lacking much in the way of oomph and imaginative staying power.