Nigel Kennedy’s Hendrix Project review – hard-riffing accounts of timeless themes

Ronnie Scott’s, London
The violinist rocks the stage with a two-guitar jazz band, taking Jimi Hendrix classics to fresh heights

Never a man to do things by halves, superstar violinist Nigel Kennedy plays classical music with intelligence, refinement and devotion – and rock, with a delight in all the explosively direct routes to euphoria that his other life eschews. Kennedy was coming from the latter angle on his opener at Ronnie Scott’s, reworking the Jimi Hendrix project he began in 1999 with a new ensemble featuring two powerful guitarists (eager newcomer Julian Buschberger and thoughtful former Robert Plant sideman Doug Boyle), his Polish jazz rhythm section, and Orphy Robinson on xylosynth and percussion.

From the moment the 58-year-old bounced on stage,exchanging fist-pounds with his sidemen, flashing his Aston Villa shirt and then launching a maelstrom of fast bowing over a gathering storm of funk, it was clear he was set on having the most fun he could without short-changing Hendrix’s genius. Though he’s an accomplished improviser, Kennedy barely paused for circuitous jazzy improv, concentrating instead on hard-riffing accounts of the timeless themes Hendrix concocted out of pop-song forms, classical music and the blues. He ignited Purple Haze over drummer Adam Czerwinski’s boneshaking march-beat, evoked the soars and swoops of the Hendrix guitar on the electric violin (Buschberger and Boyle gave that sound their own accolades, the latter with some spooky bottleneck), but brought the acoustic instrument’s angelic high-register tenderness to bear on Little Wing. Kennedy’s fast repetition of looping, rapidly modulating phrases on the squealy rocker Fire morphed into the Ellington classic Caravan.

A poignant Bartók episode (“Here’s a cat who’s got nothing to do with Jimi Hendrix,” announced the violinist) was shadowed by acoustic guitars and soft hand-drumming, and Buschberger uncorked his most uninhibited solo on Hey Joe, with Kennedy playfully turning the song’s famous climactic bass riff into an anthem that kept resolving in different places. He played a funky encore on the Average White Band’s Pick Up the Pieces, and left the cheering audience wanting a lot more.

• Until 7 March. Box office: 020-7439 0747. Venue: Ronnie Scott’s jazz club, London.


John Fordham

The GuardianTramp

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