Nigel Kennedy hits a high with Brighton Hendrix hoedown


The last time a Brighton friend of mine saw Jimi Hendrix, he stalked past him with his black cap pulled down, his gloweringly foul vibe confirmed as he trashed his equipment on Sussex University's stage, ending a set so moodily short that support act Ten Years After had to play again. Three weeks later, Hendrix returned to the seaside in better shape and grander circumstances, playing the Prince Regent's one-time stables the Brighton Dome on December 2, 1967. These are the associations Nigel Kennedy is evoking as he takes the Dome's stage nearly 49 years after, to play Hendrix's music here once more.

Hendrix's mutant mesh of rock, blues and jazz suits Kennedy's own hybrid nature, letting him apply his classical technique, relatively punk irreverence and improvisational ability pure classical players lack. Leading a quintet minus the advertised Orphy Robinson on vibes, in electric mode they're ridiculously, ear-worryingly loud, hitting volumes Hendrix's amps could never have reached. 'Purple Haze' begins in a feedback storm from Julian Buschberger and Doug Boyle's guitars and Kennedy's electric violin. But it's when this fades away for an acoustic Kennedy solo which seems to draw on Jewish, Arabic and Celtic strands and ends sounding like acoustic Pink Floyd that the music takes shape. Over the low padding of double-bass, his playing slips into classical mode, till his whispered slides and shivers finally bring an unbroken, largely improvised half-hour to a stop.

That's broadly tonight's format, as when the electric reverberations of 'Foxy Lady' make way for an acoustic gypsy lament. Kennedy recalls Dylan's Desire violinist Scarlet Riviera on 'When the Wind Cries Mary', while 'Crosstown Traffic' is full-on, swinging wah-wah, followed by feedback-flecked classic rock which gets two latter-day freaks dancing.

Rocking out rewards Kennedy, but he's more interesting when he brings Hendrix into his world, the guitarist's charisma and innovation lying in a realm the violinist can't reach. Rye Jazz and Blues Festival worthily promoted this one-off channelling of Hendrix's Sussex spirit. But its highlight is the encore, Django Reinhardt's 'Swing 39'. With Adam Czerwinski's kit reduced to a snare, the band huddle in intimate interplay. The music's grace takes them out of time, and is the best, cleansing expression of Kennedy's catholic taste.

– Nick Hasted
– Photo by Francesca Moore