There is scarcely a musical culture anywhere that has not adopted and adapted the violin: folk, dance and sacred musics of every kind have extended its geographic range and its musical expressiveness. At close quarters and when not embedded in orchestral settings, it is even possible to hear more than one of its many voices in a single tune. The rich possibilities are multiplied by an entire evening’s performance; and by the same measure again when it is in the hands of an eclectic and skilled improvisor.
Much the same is true of the guitar, both acoustic and electric. The world is awash with good, bad and indifferent guitarists, guitar aficionados and guitar wannabes—and with the airwaves saturated with guitar music in all its variety, who could blame them?
So the prospect of a duet featuring renowned musicians John Etheridge and Christian Garrick was never going to settle into an evening of faithful renderings Django Rheinhardt, or even a form of noveau-Gypsy Jazz. Instead, this was an evening of constant surprise and musical delights, ranging from familiar jazz standards to William Walton and—well, yes, that old Django favourite, ‘Swing 39.’ And why not?
What was most notable and most pleasing about both sets is that although musicians of this calibre could have played familiar numbers with only the occasional embellishment and plenty of creative soloing, they went one step further: the melodies themselves were gently nudged and re-shaped—not so far that the pleasure of familiarity was lost, but clearly as part of what individuals of high skill and a sense of adventure couldn’t resist. Their take on ‘Blue Moon’ was a case in point. On this number, Christian Garrick employed a voice synthesiser to his already considerable array of electronic gadgetry. This could so easily have descended to parody, but while it was funny, the integrity of the song and its sad-veering-on-scmaltzy/sentimental quality was emphasised rather than undermined.
The range of electronic manipulation devices now available to performing musicians can sometimes get the better of the music—and on occasion, of the musicians themselves. But on this outing, both musicians deployed them very deftly and subtly. It was easy to forget that on its own, an electric guitar can’t produce some of the wondrous effects that John Etheridge was able to conjure up. But always, the bags of tricks were only opened in the service of the music; and none of the electronica could distract the audience from the musicians’ instrumental craft and their utterly delightful interplay. And John Etheridge was as spellbinding on acoustic as he was on electric.
The audience met the end of every number with a roar of approval; and the sheer fun and delight of the evening was palpable. Pleasure in musical virtuosity needn’t take the form customary in chamber concerts: this gig was something to shout about. And we did.
© J. Whitman 5th November 2016