Nigel Kennedy + Berliner Philharmoniker – Vivaldi (2003)

FrontCover1Not content with having produced one wildly successful recording of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons in 1989, Nigel Kennedy, irrepressible enfant terrible of the violin world, apparently decided it was time for another version to display the new insights and ideas he had gained during those years. And indeed the differences are far-reaching and fundamental. The old version was relatively conventional, faithful to the score in text and spirit, with moderate tempi and no exaggerations. The new version’s motto might be “everything to excess”: tempi, tempo changes, dynamics. The sound effects are realistic to nature, but unnatural to string instruments, and there is a lot of scratching in the loud, vigorous sections. Perhaps in a nod to baroque practice, there are swells on the long notes, crescendos and decrescendos on ascending and descending lines, unvibrated passage, and long pauses before final notes.

NigelKennedyThis is the first of a multi-disc collaboration between Kennedy and the musicians of the Berlin Philharmonic, called “The Vivaldi Project,” and it is interesting that these famously tradition-conscious, staid players seem quite comfortable with his iconoclastic approach. Phrasing, articulation, and spirit are remarkably unanimous; the balance is fine with very strong cellos and basses. In the two double concertos–one famous, one unknown, both delightful–whose fast movements are taken at break-neck speed, the concertmaster matches Kennedy in verve and virtuosity, no mean feat. In spite of all his excesses, Kennedy’s playing is superb; his technique is brilliant, his tone has a beguiling, aching sweetness. He is in his element in the improvisations; indeed they sometimes take on a life of their own. The most convincing, satisfying parts are the slow movements: played with unspoiled simplicity, deep expressiveness, and repose, they speak straight to the heart. Here, one feels, is where the real Kennedy comes out. (by Edith Eisler)

Booklet01A

Nigel Kennedy, if you didn’t know it already, has done more for Vivaldi than any other musician alive – according to these sleeve notes, that is. Here he continues his intrepid crusade by recording the Four Seasons for a second time, now with the Berlin Philharmonic, and issued on CD and DVD. Kennedy’s performance is perfectly decent and musical – all that designer stubble and estuary English can’t disguise the high-class violinist he is – but it is unremarkable, with only a few eccentric tempo changes to distinguish it from any one of a number of modern-instrument performances of the past 30 years. The two-violin concertos with which the Four Seasons are framed are marginally more interesting, seem more spontaneous, perhaps because Kennedy hasn’t been playing them ad nauseam for the past 10 years. (The Guardian)

VivaldiPersonnel:
Nigel Kennedy (violin)
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Berliner Philharmoniker
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Bogumila Gizbert-Studnicka (harpsichord)
Olaf Maninger (cello)
Daniel Stabrawa (violin)
Taro Takeuchi (lute)

Booklet10ATracklist:

Concerto For 2 Violins, Strings & Continuo In A Minor, Op.3 No.8, RV522     9.36
01. Allegro 2.54
02. Larghetto E Spirituoso 4.11
03. Allegro  2.31

Il Cimento Dell’Armonia E Dell’Inventione, Op.8 Nos.1-4: Le Quattro Stagioni La Primavera, RV269     9.36
04. Allegro  3.05
05. Largo 2.30
06. Allegro 4.01

L’Estate, RV315     10.21
07. Allegro Non Molto – Allegro – (Allegro Non Molto) 5.16
08. Adagio 2.26
09. Presto 2.39

L’Autunno, RV293     8.33
10. Allegro – Larghetto – Allegro Assai 2.08
11. Adagio Molto 2.52
12. Allegro 3.33

L’Inverno, RV297     8.06
13. Allegro Non Molto 3.02
14. Largo 1.39
15. Allegro – Lento – (Allegro) 3.25

Concerto For 2 Violins In D Major, RV511     12:07
16. Allegro Molto – Adagio – Allegro 4.37
17. Largo 3.52
18. Allegro 3.38

Composed by Antonio Vivaldi

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Nigel Kennedy Quintet – Shhh ! (2010)

FrontCover1The 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 NigelKennedylounge (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. (by James Manheimby James Manheim)

NKQ
The Nigel Kenndy Quintet

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. “I am a natural improviser. I can’t just always stand up and follow a score,” says Kennedy, the virtuoso violinist who has been ploughing his own furrow ever since as a 16 year old student he joined the jazz violinist Stephane Grappelli on stage at the Carnegie Hall – to the alarm of his classical teachers at the Juilliard School.

To this day, Kennedy still declines to play by any one set of rules. Over the past decade or so, as well as recording Bach, Vivaldi, Mozart, Beethoven, Mlynarski and Karlowicz, he has laid his personal instrumental stamp on the songs of Jimi Hendrix, the Doors and Kate Bush; performed the violin intro to Baba O’Riley on stage with the Who; invited Jeff Beck onto the Prom stage with the NKQ; explored traditional klezmer music with the Polish band, Kroke, and dug deep into the roots of modern jazz on the Blue Note Sessions, an album he recorded in NYC in 2006 with legends Ron Carter and Jack DeJohnette.

Following his 2008 excursion into the self-penned tracks of the NKQ’s A Very Nice Album, 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).

“Rockfield has history but it also has a lot to offer in the world of modern music, so it feels like being on the stage of Carnegie Hall or Ronnie Scott’s, to be in the spot where all these great artists have been standing before you,” Kennedy says. “And it’s also a really beautiful, peaceful place to work.” Shhh! was produced by Kennedy in association with the son of Motorhead’s Lemmy, Paul Inder, “a huge talent who definitely brought a different energy to the project.”

Collaborating on one of the album’s outstanding and most surprising tracks is Boy George, an old mate and near neighbour of Kennedy’s in North West London who shares his passion for the songs of the late Nick Drake. George’s delicate vocal on River Man points to another new direction for Kennedy’s music – a gentle chamber pop which brings out the understated lyrical tone in his violin playing. “There were a few singers whose voice I thought might work well on River Man but I just knew that George’s voice would sound amazing, and his beautiful, very touching interpretation and style adds a completely different dimension to the song.”

The other songs on Shhh! are all Kennedy originals, ranging from the long instrumental opener, Transfiguration – reminiscent of the fusion-ary flights of John McLaughlin’s Mahavishnu Orchestra – to the dirty funk rock outro Oy! The moods along the way vary from the sparse and desolate calm of The Empty Bottle to the uplifting Silver Lining. “I love moving from one style to another – it’s what makes life interesting for me as a musician. It’s a kind of trip we’re all making together” Kennedy observes, cheerfully. (by arkivmusic)

BackCover1Personnel:
Krzysztof Dziedzic (drums)
Tomasz Grzegorski (saxophone)
Nigel Kennedy (violin)
Adam Kowalewski (bass)
Piotr Wylezol (piano)
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Boy George (vocals on 02.)
John Themis (guitar on 02.)

Booklet02ATracklist:
01. Transfiguration (Kennedy) 10.38
02. River Man (Drake) 4.58
03. Silver Lining (Kennedy)  7.31
04.Shhh! (Kennedy) 8.00
05. The Empty Bottle (Kennedy) 2.38
06. 4th Glass (Kennedy) 9.46
07. Oy! (Kennedy) 10.10

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Nigel Kennedy Quintet feat.Jeff Beck – Royal Albert Hall (2008)

NigelKennedyJeffBeckFCNigel Kennedy might be known for Vivaldi’s Four Seasons but the violinist has his rock side and is no stranger to either Jimi Hendrix or The Doors. Earlier in the evening, Kennedy had performed Elgar’s Violin Concerto but for the later part of the show, for a moment there, one would have thought it was Pat Metheny and his Synclavier, for that was how Kennedy came across. Unlike the earlier classical portion, here Kennedy weaved between jazz, folk and rock.

 

The highlight and surprise for the audience was when Kennedy brought Jeff Beck on stage. Allaboutjazz.com reported: “Nigel was particularly keen for me to do the Hills of Saturn solo,” said Beck, who played the track on his Fender Stratocaster electric guitar.

John Fordham wrote in The Guardian: “As an improviser, Kennedy has an originality of spontaneous line and rhythmic attack that most classical players lack in this context, and several of the pieces worked up a fierce, guitar-mimicking, Hendrix-like momentum… A romantic ballad dedicated to 1960s folkie Donovan was sublime, and so was the darkly elegiac Hills of Saturn – the latter richly harmonised with Tomasz Grzegorski’s tenor sax and Adam Kowalewski’s bass. Surprise guest Jeff Beck conjured an astonishing panpipe-like sound from his guitar.”

 
Personnel:
Pawel Dobrowolski (percussion)
Tomasz Grzegorski (saxophone)
Nigel Kennedy (violin)
Adam Kowalewski (bass)
Piotr Wylezol (piano)
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Jeff Beck (guitar on 03 + 04.)

Tracklist:
01. Nice Bottle Of Beaujolais/Innit 9.36
02. Hills Of Saturn 5.00
03 Hills Of Saturn 6.19
04. Third Stone From The Sun 10.22

 

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