Could you see Jimi smiling last night at the end? I could, inside my head, and then mine as well, though I had smiled often throughout another fine evening of jazz at the Blue Vanguard, John Etheridge a delight as player and joker, and then the band who were, as I always say but will allow Etheridge’s words to encapsulate for this review, ‘great players all’. And JE should know, not that anyone couldn’t, hearing them this ‘great’ last night as well as time and time again. And I mean Jimi Hendrix as Etheridge finished his evening with a wonderful cover of Little Wing, with thanks to Billie Bottle for requesting in a shout-out from the sidelines near the end [Bottle playing with The Granite Band – Kate and Mike Westbrook – at the Dartmoor Resonance Music Festival on the 21st June].
The night’s entertainment began with the 12 bar blues of Ornette Coleman’s Turnaround which Etheridge described as ‘our first number as a band’. Literally, though it didn’t show, superbly controlled as it was. Next was Ann Ronell’s Willow Weep for Me, with Etheridge controlling the feedback and Craig Milverton supplying a sweet piano solo. This was followed by Sonny Rollins’ St Thomas, ‘some of the same notes’ as in the previous song.
Throughout this and the night, Al Swainger was the still point of bass control, all grace and drive, and the Blue Vanguard Trio excelled again and also on the next slower and ‘sad old tune’, the Don Raye/Gene De Paul You Don’t Know What Love Is with a long opening guitar solo and a later Santana-esque layer.
The first of two outstanding funk numbers was Art Neville’s Cissy Strut made famous by The Meters. Coach York on drums and Etheridge ripped this one up with some hot dual rhythms, and Craig Milverton pumped out more funkfesting on his keys.
After the interval Etheridge and band played Charlie Mingus’ Goodbye Pork Pie Hat, the musical lament for, at that time, recently passed saxophonist Lester Young, and Etheridge invoked other artists including the great drummer John Hiseman who sadly passed on the 1st June – I didn’t know.
The other funk gem of the night was John Scofield’s Do Like Eddie, written for the electrifying saxophonist Eddie Harris, and this had Coach on drumming fire again and Milverton pumped to funk heaven. Etheridge drove the melodic line with such sweet punch and later more of the same before bending notes and riffing in another electricity over the other punching beats of those drums.
There was more of this excellence but my note-taking got lost in the lower lights of the room in that second set and demanding, happy distractions of the musical feast. As I’ve said, John Etheridge finished on Hendrix’s Little Wing, starting with slaps and plucks and note dips before revealing one of the sweetest melodies ever written and playing homage to this with such empathy and distinctive interpretation, entering into its soaring and still plaintive notes to dip and rise loudly and beautifully. Yes, I was smiling like a kid in the proverbial.