I always try to do something different for the RAMzine Classic feature. I can think of dozens of genuine classics, nearly all of which you will have heard, and so this time I have selected a less obvious classic (in every sense of the word) from 1999 to tie in with the Orchestral feature in issue 29 of RAMzine.
It features the man who used to be known as the bad boy of classical music, Nigel Kennedy, giving his violin interpretations of Jimi Hendrix songs — no words, just Nigel and seriously skilled musicians on acoustic guitar, cello, flute, oboe, and bass guitar to accompany him. The first time I heard The Kennedy Experience was, unbelievably perhaps, on ClassicFM, when Jimi Hendrix’s ‘Fire’ was being played. Yet, it was not on a violin, and nor was it orchestrated, but rather brilliantly reinterpreted by Mr. Kennedy. I bought the CD and from the tantalising opening refrains, I was hooked.
But why on Earth did he do it? I think the best way to answer that is to quote Nigel from the booklet notes: “If a musician doesn’t reach personal and unexpected emotional realms with his music – what the fuck is he doing? Here’s something personal inspired by one of this century’s most important creators.” That I’m sure you’ll agree says it all.
As for the music, the words incendiary, stunning, fascinating and tingle-generating spring to mind. If you doubt me, listen to the first track, ‘Third Stone From The Sun.’ As the bending of cello strings builds toward that (always) brilliant riff, it has a clarity and honesty that reveals areas of the original I had missed. I was so affected by this reworking that I listened again to Jimi’s masterpiece and genuinely began to appreciate it anew and, by doing so, appreciated Kennedy’s skilful interpretation even more. This only happened once before, when I heard Ed Alleyne-Johnson do an electric violin version of the matchless Child In Time, and appreciated that from new angles too. The other, sometimes extended, songs Kennedy does are also revelations in their own way. ‘Little Wing’ and ‘1983…(A Merman I Should Turn To Be)’ clock in at 11 and 15 minutes respectively, and will leave you awestruck. ‘Fire’ and ‘Purple Haze’ are shorter, sharper and brilliant. The posthumously released and less familiar Hendrix song, ‘Drifting’, is a cathartic and yet challenging listen…and genius.
I urge you to give this one a try; leave behind your preconceptions of Kennedy, the violin, and the classical world behind, and listen to the tones, textures and brilliance of Hendrix in a whole new way.