John Etheridge's reputation in the jazz world cannot be overstated. A genuinely virtuosic fusion guitarist, Etheridge is one of a handful of players who can claim to have helped shape the character of modern jazz guitar. He has been described by fellow fretsman Pat Metheny as 'one of the best guitarists in the world', a distinction that is due in no small part to his tireless exploration of the possibilities of his instrument. A hugely respected artist in his own right, Etheridge also claims an impressive collaborative history, from his seminal work with groundbreaking fusion group Soft Machine to his longstanding status as the guitarist of choice for jazz icon Ste'phane Grappelli.
It is safe to say, then, that when it comes to playing companions, Etheridge's judgement is second to none. In vocalist Vimala Rowe, he has not only found a partner of rare ability but a talent that perfectly compliments his explorative nature. An exemplary jazz singer with a faultless and deft expression, Rowe has a unique style that is further enhanced by her past training in classical Hindustani vocals. Her soulful, moving, and unerringly committed performances on Out Of The Sky are truly revelatory.
Out Of The Sky is an album that offers both a quintessential jazz feel and the discernable atmosphere of new territory being discovered. Peppered throughout the refined jazz and blues tones are tantalising touches of flamenco, Indian classical, and African timbres that beat at the boundaries of genre. This combination of influences, along with Etheridge and Rowe's staggering sensitivity to each other's styles, makes Out Of The Sky an otherworldly experience. Perhaps most pleasingly, the tracks also resonate with the deeply personal - as well as musical - connection shared by these two artists at the top of their game.
Out of the Sky is a powerful, expressive, and joyous meeting of minds. With this outstanding collaboration, John Etheridge and Vimala Rowe have created an album that marks out the vocalist-guitarist duo as a site of previously untapped possibility.
Here are snippets of their recently relased album, Out Of The Sky.
1. Blue Breeze
3. Sometimes We Have To Part
5. Syriac Aramaic Prayer
7. Ya Kundendu - Saraswati Sloka
8. Dark Shadows
9. Detour Ahead
John Etheridge/Vimala Rowe: Out of the Sky review – sweeping musical horizons ****
Thursday 2nd June, Review by John Fordham
Young singer Vimala Rowe took the role of Billie Holiday in Alex Webb's music-theatre show Cafe Society Swing, but though flawless tributes to the great jazz vocalists are a speciality of hers, she is also an award-winning original composer, a sometime rap artist, and a world musician trained in Hindustani classical techniques. This beautiful album pairs her with chameleonic British guitarist John Etheridge, who has worked with Stephane Grappelli, Soft Machine and John Williams. The pair sweep across musical horizons here: from the terrifying Nina Simone-like opening and quietly impassioned intimacies of Blue Breeze; the imploring east African ballad Malaika, sung in Swahili; to an Aramaic prayer given a haunting treatment of almost motionless power; and an effortlessly resonant account of Detour Ahead.
Vimala Rowe, John Etheridge, Out of the Sky, Dyad ****
Friday 29th April. Review by Stephen Graham.
The words 'Blue' and 'breeze', a long exhalation, a mood instantly captured, the bluesy moan of voice and hum of guitar.
Out of the Sky is an album of nine tracks that frames stark themes, originals and arranged treatments of traditional African music and jazz standards as a unity. A cinematic version of an Aramaic prayer draws together the ancient culture and modern sufferings of Syria and a harrowing version of Ellington's 'Solitude' are tracks for replaying most.
Largely duets (the double bass of Dudley Phillips pops up on two tracks) the wiry sometimes desert-distant Ry Cooder-like earthy quality of the veteran Soft Machine guitarist is a calm held in reserve, a landmark sound that the heart-on-sleeve carefully calibrated passion of Rowe leans in to.
The singer, who can swoop to gather up meaningful undertones, manipulating the silences, or reach high to scrape off glassy accented shards raw with expressive powerful resource, and Etheridge from their first meeting walking on Hampstead Heath have clearly bonded on this persuasive studio album recorded last summer, the majestic stillness the pair create on a moving appropriately angelic version of Kenyan singer Fadhili William's 'Malaika' famously covered by Miriam Makeba where Rowe inescapably and elsewhere on the album is reminiscent of Sibongile Khumalo and she stands comparison with the best role models, remarkably complete for such a relative newcomer. Jazz singer discovery of 2016 so far? You bet.
The album moves to a vintage climax with the more familiar Bird beloved 'Dark Shadows', and a version of 'Detour Ahead' a song that goes back to Woody Herman days (there is also a fine early version of the song by cult favourite Jackie Paris on YouTube), the only new coordinates required simply ones that involve a journey of the imagination.
CD Review: Vimala Rowe/John Etheridge - Out of the Sky
Friday 29th April. Review by Lance of Bebop Spoken Here.
Those who attended the Cafe Society Swing show at GIJF 2016 came away with their head in the clouds. This was one outstanding event - for me the highlight! It was maybe the first time most of us had encountered Vimala Rowe and, just as we'd been hit for six when we first heard Cecile McLorin Salvant at Whitley Bay a few years back, Vimala Rowe also hit a few that didn't touch the ground!
We wanted more, and now we've got it - or have we? I'd say we've got it even though this is far removed from the Billie/Sarah/Lena persona that prevailed in Sage Two at GIJF.
In John Etheridge, Vimala has found the musical soulmate to take her in a different direction (or maybe vice versa!). The pair gel beautifully on an amazingly varied programme. An emotive Solitude, Earl Coleman's Dark Shadows, an African piece sung in Swahili, classical Indian compositions, several originals by Rowe and the jazz standard Detour Ahead. Very apt as the duo, assisted by Dudley Phillips on double bass on a couple of tracks, take many detours from the straight and narrow - there's even a suggestion of flamenco along the way.
If I'm totally honest, it didn't jump up and hit me between the eyes first time round but, after repeated playings, it got through to me that this really is something special. Two artists at the top of their game merging as one.
John Etheridge and Vimala Rowe Duo
26th February 2016. Review by Jim Whitman.
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.
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.
Vimala Rowe with the John Etheridge Trio
(Pizza Express Jazz Club. 10th September 2015. 4th night of the John Etheridge residency. Review by Sebastian Scotney)
Four different formations make up the six-night John Etheridge residency at Pizza Express this week. The newest of them is a collaboration with singer Vimala Rowe. It is a fascinating creative cauldron right now, and alive with possibility. Etheridge and Rowe have made a CD, which has taken slightly longer to produce than they had hoped, and should be available next month. They are continuing to add repertoire from far and wide. John Etheridge has explored many genres, styles, legacies in his career, but his curiosity is undimmed, and in Vimala Rowe he seems to have found a singer of quite astonishing versatility and adaptability to open up several more avenues.
Rowe's stylistic and expressive range are just part of what made last night's show so engaging. She also has performance experience, a compelling stage presence, and savvy to burn. She has recently made a hit in a flamenco show being run by Paco Pena at Sadler's Wells, and also in performances of Alex Webb's Cafe Society.
But (please hold on to your hats) there's more, much more. In this show there were songs drawing on Rowe's training in classical North Indian vocal technique. We also heard the East African classic Malaika, sung in very creditable Swahili. She also socked out some soul numbers, caressed and delicately floated a couple of jazz ballads, and touched the heart with a Syrian-Aramaic prayer. The Indian classical vocals take some getting used to, but that is probably a matter of familiarity. A quick perusal of her biography (and YouTube) indicates that she has also, in her time, lived in the Far East, where she powered up rap lyrics like "I'm a soul sista mista" with the Thai band TKO.
I kept on thinking how were lucky we were to be hearing Rowe in the intimate surroundings of a small club, but at the same time I was imagining other, much larger places she might pop up. Those contexts like Jazz Voice or BBC Proms where singers are required to stamp their authority immediately on, say an Etta James or Rachelle Ferrell or Billie Holiday song in front of a large audience. It is very easy indeed to imagine Rowe delivering the goods on the big stage.
The band were extremely classy and responsive and clearly enjoying the show too, going from the quietest ethereal sounds from Etheridge's guitar all the way to full band in full cry. Dudley Phillips with his double bass played side-on was laying down time in a magical less-is-more way, particularly on Detour Ahead. Drummer Mark Fletcher's contribution would be easy to take for granted - that's the way it goes when everything - supportiveness and attentiveness volume, time, sound quality - is quite so completely and unobtrusively right.
We are going to hear a lot more of Vimala Rowe.