John Etheridge Blue Spirits: Live

Debut recording for the Softs guitarist's 20-year-old organ trio ranges from Sonny Rollins to Charles Mingus via Hank Williams


Guitar virtuoso John Etheridge is a reassuringly ubiquitous presence on the UK jazz scene. He’s probably best known for his membership of jazz-rock outfit Soft Machine, an association which commenced with the album Softs (Harvest, 1976), where Etheridge was enlisted to replace guitar supremo Allan Holdsworth. A hard act to follow but Etheridge was happily equal to the job. He’s now the only original member of the 1970s Soft Machine contingent to appear in its newly revived incarnation and is heard on the band’s two latest albums Hidden Details (MoonJune Records, 2018) and Other Doors (Dyad Records, 2023). He also appeared on six albums with Soft Machine Legacy.

But Etheridge has a fantastic track record both leading his own groups such as Zappatistas, Sweet Chorus (with violinist Christian Garick) and a duo with John Williams. As an accompanist he’s played with some of the world’s greatest musicians including Stéphane Grappelli when he was recruited to replace departing guitarist Ike Isaacs at the end of 1976. He also joined violin wunderkind Nigel Kennedy’s band in 1992.

Considering he’s had a career spanning 50-plus years – beginning with ex-Curved Air violinist Darryl Way’s band Wolf on its debut Canis Lupis (Deram, 1973) – it’s somewhat surprising that Blue Spirits: Live is Etheridge’s first organ trio recording, especially as this trio has been in existence for 20 years.

Of the eight tracks on the album, six are standards and two are Etheridge compositions. The set kicks off with an original number, the bluesy A Distant Voice, which neatly illustrates just why Etheridge was chosen to replace Holdsworth in Soft Machine. Sonny Rollins’ satisfyingly funky First Moves, which was heard on The Cutting Edge (Milestone, 1974), is followed by Mal Waldron’s Soul Eyes, tenderly executed by Etheridge.

The ebullient Wabash III by John Scofield is followed by a shimmering version of Stevie Wonder’s Cause We’ve Ended As Lovers. Hank Williams’ Cold, Cold Heart is reminiscent of John Scofield’s forays into country and western but no less effective for that. Broken Hill, the second original number, is a majestic tour de force with Pete Whittaker’s swirling Hammond offering a vital undercurrent. The closer, Charles Mingus’ paean to Lester Young, Goodbye Pork Pie Hat, is afforded a captivating solo treatment by Etheridge and serves to reinforce his position as one of Britain’s best jazz guitarists.

A Distant Voice; First Moves; Soul Eyes; Wabash III; Cause We’ve Ended As Lovers; Cold Cold Heart; Broken Hill; Goodbye Pork Pie Hat (56.50)
Etheridge (elg); Pete Whittaker (org); George Double (d). Nottingham, 2022.
Dyad Records, DY033