John Etheridge & Vimala Rowe Duo, 26th February 2016

Jazz as we know it today could hardly be more encompassing, yet guitar/vocal duos are a rarity.
Even the few recordings that Ella Fitzgerald made with Joe Pass are not well known.  The reasons aren’t difficult to appreciate: both singer and guitarist must have the capacity to perform compellingly while highly exposed; their styles need to be complementary and their coordination superb; and they need to be able to connect to audiences directly and consistently, without resort to any instrumental or extended tonal variety.
At their best, they deliver the listener to the very heart of a song. But the performance that John Etheridge and Vimala Rowe gave us was that and more: this was a ‘home delivery’—that is, straight to the hearts of the audience. It’s not unusual for audiences to feel exhilarated and thrilled, but on this occasion, we were left weak-kneed and speechless.
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John Etheridge has played top-level guitar in a striking array of contexts and styles. There can’t be much in the way of high-level guitar playing for which he isn’t the gold standard. The weight and span of his experience was on full display, as was his artistry: his support of Vimala Rowe was precise and attentive as well as expressive; and his solo passages were a show on their own: creative and distinctive, but always apt, beautifully crafted to the nature of the songs.

Vimala Rowe is a revelation—a truly individual singer, who is in full possession of the whole parcel of gifts: magnetic stage presence; a voice with strength and character throughout her range; and very finely judged use of her extensive vocal technique (vibrato; wonderful, deep notes; long, pure-toned sustains; and of course, the dizzy heights.) The word ‘soulful’ is often bandied about, but this was the real thing. And for all of the variety of material (including a few of Vimala Rowe’s own compositions), the sheer verve, consistency and sure-footed performing joy these two exuded made both sets a seamless delight.

There’s only one response to music-making as engaging and moving as this: ‘Play all night!’ Would that they had. No one would have budged.

J Whitman 29.02.2016

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