As this album clearly shows, Britain has produced some damn fine jazz guitarists.

DYAD Records DY033

John Etheridge (electric guitars); Pete Whittaker (organ); George Double (drums)

Recorded Peggys Skylight, Nottingham 23 July 2022

During the 1960s, a new generation of British jazz guitarists emerged onto the music scene. While these musicians were into jazz harmony and influenced by the likes of Jim Hall, Django Reinhardt, Kenny Burrell and Wes Montgomery, they were also inspired by the sounds of rock and pop, and guitarists such as Jeff Beck, Jimi Hendrix, Hank Marvin and Eric Clapton.

Guitarists in this category include Ray Russell, John McLaughlin, Allan Holdsworth and John Etheridge. Etheridge is well known for his association with Soft Machine (he first played with the band in 1975, on the recommendation of a departing Allan Holdsworth, stayed with them for three years, and then re-joined in 2004).

Not all jazz fans appreciated rock elements being added to jazz guitar, as Etheridge wryly noted in an interview with London Jazz News’ Sebastian Scotney: ‘When I first started playing on the jazz scene, it was quite amusing that audiences would treasure honks, growls, vibrato, slurs and slides from saxophone players, but as soon as you bent a note on the guitar the cry would go up: “He’s a ROCK guitarist!”’

Like many British jazz guitarists from this era, Etheridge has his fingers in many musical pies, and plays a wide range of musical genres, on both acoustic and electric guitar. He’s played with John Williams, Stéphane Grappelli, Yehudi Menhuin, Dizzy Gillespie, Nigel Kennedy, Pat Metheny and Andy Summers from The Police. He also has a number of side projects including, a Frank Zappa tribute band, and Blue Spirits, an organ trio which has been going for around twenty years but never released an album – until now.

The trio consists of organist Pete Whittaker, who has been with the band from its inception and whose musical inspirations include Jimmy Smith, Larry Young and Jack McDuff. Although a big fan of the Hammond B3 organ, Whittaker is more likely to be found on the road with a digital keyboard, the Crumar Mojo, which has been adopted by many keyboardists, due to its ability to faithfully emulate the sound and feel of a tonewheel organ – and being a lot easier to lug around gigs than a hefty B3.

Drummer George Double is a relative newcomer, having joined the trio around seven years ago. But he has tons of experience, having played with artists such as Jack Jones, Shirley Bassey, Mica Paris, Chris Ingham, Digby Fairweather and Art Themen. This album was recorded at a gig at the Nottingham jazz club Peggy’s Skylight, which routinely makes multi-track recordings of the acts that appear there. This album runs for a little under an hour (about half the length of the original gig) and little editing and sonic tweaking were used in post-production. Like many live albums these days, audience participation is kept to a minimum between tracks.

The band plays eight number tunes, including two Etheridge compositions. The first is the opening track, ‘Distant Voice’ (also known as ‘A Distant Voice.’), a laid-back, bluesy number driven by Double’s slow, steady cross-stick beat. The band creates a light, spacious sound, with Whittaker playing swirling lines, as well as a long solo that builds in intensity. Etheridge also plays an extended solo, beginning with gentle riffs and delicate phrases, before switching to a more strident rock tone and then reverting back to a gentler mode at the coda. His second number, ‘Broken Hill’ is in a similar vein. Etheridge is a superb player, with a clean, clear sound, exquisite phrasing and the minimum use of effects, usually a little echo or reverb here and there, or overdrive to create a gritty rock guitar sound.

Two numbers associated with the late Jeff Beck are included. Stevie Wonder’s ballad ‘Cause We’ve Ended As Lovers’ (for some reason renamed here as ‘Cos We’ve Ended As Lovers,’) has a beautiful melody and it’s easy to see why it has been covered by so many guitarists including Lee Ritenour and Larry Carlton. This version lasts a shade under eleven minutes and while Beck’s performance includes lots of string bends and sustain, Etheridge’s version adds Flamenco-like figures to the mix. Whittaker supports with a dramatic-sounding riff and Double plays a slow, steady metronome-like beat. It’s an excellent cover.

Jeff Beck played Charles Mingus’s ‘Goodbye Pork Pie Hat’ on his 1976 album Wired and the great bassist was moved to write him a congratulatory letter. However, Etheridge’s interpretation sounds closer to the acoustic guitar version played by John McLaughlin on his album My Goals Beyond. It’s the last number on the album, and is a six-minute solo guitar performance. Such is Etheridge’s virtuosity that there are times when you could be forgiven for thinking there were two guitarists on the stage at the same time.

There are plenty more aural treats on this album including, a sprightly cover of John Scofield’s ‘Wabash III’, which has Whittaker brilliantly emulating a walking bass line, and Double trading fours with guitarist and organist. Jazz meets country with an energised version of Hank Williams’ ‘Cold Cold Heart’ with Etheridge’s guitar weaving over a syncopated backbeat. There’s also a raunchy version of Sonny Rollins’ ‘First Moves,’with snarling guitar and a rock groove. In contrast, a moody cover of Mal Waldron’s ballad ‘Soul Eyes’ features Etheridge playing fragile, melodic lines over the gentle swirls of Whittaker’s keyboard. It all adds up to a very pleasing listen and makes you wonder why Etheridge’s talents aren’t more widely acknowledged. As this album clearly shows, Britain has produced some damn fine jazz guitarists.