While it was quite obviously a joy for the musicians involved, one feels that it...
Chris Jones 2008
Like a performance by the violinist's darling Aston Villa, A Very Nice Album is definitely a game of two halves. Since coming out as an avowed fan of the late, great Stephan Grapelli, Kennedy's been edging towards the jazz arena. Having covered the standards on his Blue Note releases and even mixing in some Polish folk with Kroke he's now decided to give us an album of originals - split into two discs: Melody and Invention - all backed up with more of his Polish pals. To say results are variable would be an understatement.
The initial problems are twofold. Firstly the strange middle ground that blights a lot of the first half of the album; tending towards a poppy form of jazz fusion. This makes it seem as if it sprang from a mid-80s band. There's a vague worry that dilettantism plays a heavy hand here. Secondly, Kennedy's production is, at times, woefully cluttered; again, mainly on the first disc. If this were a rock album (which at times it seems to want to be) it would be more acceptable, but when dabbling in the 'J' word clarity is all. And this isn't to mention the somewhat toe-curling vocal snippets that crop up on opener Donovan, or worse, the private joke tediousness of Boo Boooz Bloooze. It's moments such as this, as well as the first disc closer, Invaders, that make AVNA so difficult to love. The latter reflects Kennedy's very public stance on the Israel/Palestine conflict, yet he shoots himself in the foot with something that comes horribly close to bad prog rock.
Whereas his previous work with klezmer troupe, Kroke, was never showy or threatened to overshadow the band's work, here he and his electric violin run rampant. And while we know him to be a classically accomplished player, he just doesn't seem to have the necessary grammar to address more contemporary technology. A delay pedal does not a radical musician make.
It's not all bad news however: If you're a fan of our Nige you'll find plenty to like (or admire) here. The sense of inspiration and togetherness in evidence on disc two genuinely evokes interest. It's on this disc that the band work more coherently as a unit: The production is clearer, the rhythms more sprightly (especially on the irresistible, latin-inflected Where All Paths Meet or Out) and the cheesiness in scant evidence, even on the emotive Father And Son that features at least one borrowed tune. On the latter Tomasz Grzegorski's tenor may not be revolutionary, but it's absolutely apt.
In the end, as with an almost endless list of double albums, you can't help feeling that this may have the contents of one good single album buried within it. It's a shame - Kennedy's an undisputed master of his instrument, yet a large amount of AVNA sounds strangely out of time and out of touch, satisfying neither a fusionist's demand for rigour and flash, or a classicist's need for composure. While it was quite obviously a joy for the musicians involved, one feels that it won't be pushing Kennedy into the jazz mainstream just yet.