Album Remarks & Appraisals:
The latest Nigel Kennedy Quintet album, 'Shhh!', recorded in November 2009, confirms the maverick status and omnivorous musical taste of one of Britain's finest and most unpredictable musicians. Following his 2008 excursion into the self-penned tracks of the NKQ's 'A Very Nice Album', Nigel Kennedy's latest collection reveals an even more eclectic character. It was recorded at one of rock's fabled residential country studios, Rockfield in South Wales with the Polish musicians, which make up the NKQ: Tomasz Grzegorski (tenor sax, soprano sax & bass clarinet); Piotr Wylezol (piano & Hammond); Adam "Szabas" Kowalewski (contrabass & electric bass) and Krzysztof Dziedzic (drums). Collaborating on one of the album's outstanding and most surprising tracks is Boy George, an old mate and near neighbor of Kennedy's in North West London who shares his passion for the songs of the late Nick Drake.
Kennedy and his five-piece band from Poland, his new adopted home, stretch out over some laid-back, largely self-composed jazz tunes that highlight his honeyed violin tone. Boy George pops in to sing Nick Drake's River Man, his world-weary vocal huskily effective.
Boy George makes a creditably gruff guest appearance on the cover of Nick Drake's River Man, while Kennedy's playing is warm and lyrical on the serene title track.
Recording information: Rockfield Studios (11/2009).
Photographer: Holly Topps.
The album covers of the iconoclastic British violinist Nigel Kennedy often promise more craziness than they actually deliver, and that's true in the case of this release, presenting to the buyer a cartoon of a mohawk-wearing figure saying "Shhh!" The contents differ considerably from what the cover would suggest; Shhh! is a more or less straight-ahead album of jazz in various styles. Kennedy came by his inclination toward jazz honestly, playing jazz on the piano as a child and appearing in a duet concert at age 16 with Stéphane Grappelli despite warnings from his teachers. Here he appears, as on several other albums from the 2005-2010 period, with an all-Polish group of musicians (except for Afro-British percussionist Xantoné Blacq). The styles represented range from lounge (The Empty Bottle, track 5) to fusion, with all the music except for the Nick Drake song "River Man" being composed by Kennedy himself. To the violinist's credit, nothing about the album sounds contrived, not even the appearance on "River Man" of a vocalist the listener may be hard pressed to identify as Boy George. Kennedy appears as part of the group rather than hogging the spotlight, and if anything he keeps himself somewhat toward the background. He seems to do best with either the pieces closest to traditional jazz language or those in which he pursues really unusual textures; the best thing on the whole album is the title track, where he explores the extra-tonal "noise" of the violin bow as it mixes with that of a quietly played saxophone. In the harder-driving pieces there's a lack of a swinging quality, and Kennedy's solos seem preplanned; where he accepts this limitation and works with it, he does well. Kennedy fans will find much to enjoy in this release by their hero, who despite his penchant for outrage is never pretentious nor sloppy.~James Manheim