LONDON JAZZ NEWS 10.09.2015
Vimala Rowe with the John Etheridge Trio
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.
THE GUARDIAN UK 02.06.2016
John Etheridge/Vimala Rowe: Out of the Sky
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.
THE WHITMAN REVIEW 29.02.2016
John Etheridge & Vimala Rowe Duo
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.
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