Wednesday, 16 September 2009

John Etheridge...

How can it be so long since I last blogged? The Horace Tapscott CD has arrived and been devoured, I've recently discovered a nice hidden Tommy Smith gem (Nomade by Loic Dequidt's Quartet, Kopasetic), and I've also got a new job!! Snow Leopard is installed on the Mac (and apart from a few glitches here and there it is a vast improvement), and I've been sneaking in some miles on my roadbike in the early hours of the morning, before leaving for work.

The new job is probably less interesting than the reviews, so let's just say I'm pleased to be making a change that gives me a bit of a promotion but keeps me in a more-or-less related field of work. Last Friday afternoon, to mark the occasion, we sat decadently in the garden drinking champagne at 4PM. Not the kind of thing we do every day, but nice anyway.

As for the musical offering, I'll go for a John Etheridge CD (only because guitar maestro Martin Taylor has started following me on Twitter, clear evidence that Afric Pepperbird has some intrinsic merit, if not also a sign that there's little jazz to be found on Twitter).

Hell, this review even gives Taylor a flattering reference. Not sure I've ever reviewed a Taylor disc, so if you're reading this Martin, it's high time I gave it a go...

I Didn’t Know
DYAD (DY 024)

Guitar Makossa; God Bless The Child; I’ll Take Les; Now’s The Time; Motherless Child; Mercy, Mercy, Mercy; Lullaby of Birdland; I Didn’t Know; My Romance; Outline; Come Sunday; Can’t Help Lovin’ Dat Man; Strange Comforts; With The Wind; Goodbye Porkpie Hat; Swing Low Sweet Chariot.

John Etheridge (g)
Recorded 2003-4

There’s something about the guitar that seems to produce irrational worship amongst its devotees. I know many amateur guitarists who wouldn’t dream of buying recordings or going to hear live music described as “jazz” unless their instrument of choice happened to be centre stage. John Etheridge has benefited from generous coverage over the years in specialist guitar magazines, and like Metheny or Scofield he’s a ‘jazzer’ who’s managed to penetrate the consciousness of bedroom pickers far and wide. In many ways, this recording is for them, consisting as it does of short solo pieces on a variety of guitars, all makes and models described in assiduous detail in the accompanying booklet.

The use of overdubbing may worry some, placing Etheridge a notch or two below Joe Pass or Martin Taylor in the blow-your-socks-off stakes, but you’d still struggle to be unimpressed by his speed and dexterity. The material allows for a variety of approaches, from the straght-ahead ‘Now’s The Time’ to a funky version of Scofield’s ‘I’ll Take Les’, and the fusion influences of his own 'Outline’. Stadium-rock pyrotechnics are strictly off limits, and the general restraint with which he plays could surprise those who haven’t heard him for some time.

Where ‘I Didn’t Know’ seems to fall down, however, is in the way that it so often resembles a pile of pages torn randomly from an artist’s sketchbook. Many selections are faded early or simply too short for any improvisational depth to be developed. Standouts tend to be the more fully realised pieces, and include a doom-laden ‘Motherless Child’ that recalls the barren beauty of prime Bill Frisell, the languid funk of Joe Zawinul’s ‘Mercy, Mercy, Mercy’, and the lovingly deconstructed ‘Goodbye Porkpie Hat’ (with shades of Delta Blues). A long way from his roots with Soft Machine, and for that matter from recent acclaimed tribute projects to the music of Grappelli and Zappa, and although it may not be a release for the wider jazz community, it should certainly satisfy fans of the guitar as totemic icon.

Fred Grand
(Jazz Review, October 2004)

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