The Strad Issue: January 2008
Musicians: Nigel Kennedy Quintet
Composer: Various

Having ventured into partnership with Blue Note in 2006, Kennedy has taken his new Polish jazz quintet back to EMI for this double album. Disc 1, ‘Melody’, runs through a panoply of diluted world influences, before disc 2, ‘Invention’, returns to the safer, and more successful hard bop with which the quintet announced themselves…

The album would be better without the first disc, but is probably ‘nicer’, in the anodyne sense of the word, for its existence. Kennedy’s sidemen put in an immaculate session shift, with some fine cameo solos thrown in for good measure. Tunes such as the full-of-beans ‘Invaders’ and the delicate ‘Link 1’ are high points among cymbal washes, bland chord sequences, large doses of reverb and watered-down soft-rock and carnival grooves that jolt unexpectedly from genre to genre. Kennedy’s solos frequently resort to heavy distortion and volleys of rock-guitar licks – flashy and stylish, and just about kept in check by judicious mixing, but not always demonstrating any violinistic character.

Disc 2 displays many of the pluses of the DVD version of the Blue Note Sessions (reviewed in May 2008). The ensemble operates well, and the blend of tenor sax and violin is particularly impressive in ‘Where All Paths Meet’, their subtle articulation and understated expressiveness sounding as one. Kennedy’s improvisations, though a little samey rhythmically, include some strong, attractive shapes, although the threat of trills and tremolandos is never far away. The darkly tropical ‘Hudson’s Ibitha’, with muffled harmonics and other imaginative violin effects, is a dynamic album-finisher, and more like what disc 1 should have been about – but it isn’t.  

Chris Elcombe