John Etheridge – salute International Jazz Day

It’s a well known fact that guitarists go to hear other guitarists, and this concert in support of International Jazz Day was no exception at the Restaurant in the Park, Leamington Spa– several locally respected contemporary and blues axemen in the capacity audience showed their approval. Proceedings started with Coventry-based guitar virtuoso Si Hayden who played original compositions using a variety of techniques – fast fingered arpeggios, percussive slaps, flamenco strums, and with repeated use of the neck/fretboard showed he wasn’t afraid to take risks. Occasionally the sound was overly electronic, but a dazzlingly up-tempo version of Van Morrison’s ‘Moondance’ was particularly impressive.

His set was followed by John Etheridge with Adrian Litvinoff’s band Interplay, a highly successful collaboration, mixing jazz standards with ethnic and Latin-tinged numbers and inspiring strong solos, whilst pianist Neil Hunter, drummer Dave Balen and bassist Litvinofflaid down a solid rhythmic bedrock.

Pat Metheny’s ‘Hermitage’ showed the delicacy and subtlety of Hunter’s piano as well as the rich textures he can produce. Several of Litvinoff’s attractive compositions (from their CDs Introducing Interplay and Global – both well worth a listen) featured the horns of Alan Wakeman (tenor & soprano sax, flute) and Richard Baker (trombone), both interacting well with Etheridge. Understandably possibly in the case of Wakeman, although it was some years ago that he and Etheridge played together in Soft Machine. Appropriately, they played two of that group’s numbers, ‘Gesolreut’ (from Sixth) and ‘Kings and Queens’ (from Fourth). A walk down Memory Lane for many of us, especially hearing Wakeman play with such authority throughout the evening, showing strength and power as if in response to the direction given by the guitarist.

The appreciative audience showed particular enthusiasm for Etheridge’s solo version of Charles Mingus’ dedication to Lester Young, ‘Goodbye Pork Pie Hat’, and Abdullah Ibrahim’s ‘Msunduza’ which featured Etheridge duetting with Balen on tabla. A roaring version of Mingus’ ‘Boogie Stop Shuffle’ had the place moving, with Baker’s trombone having the fast articulation of a Willie Dennis or Jimmy Knepper – a clear tone, with full use of slurs and smears and an attractive straight-ahead approach.

The finale saw Hayden joining the others in the Afro-Cuban All Stars’ classic ‘Amor Verdadero’, trading licks with Etheridge and giving everyone a chance to solo, bringing to mind Ry Cooder’s description of pianist Ruben Gonzalez, ‘a Cuban cross between Thelonious Monk and Felix the Cat.’ The mix of music throughout the evening was just as varied and just as joyful.