Courtney Pine House of Legends Review

Released 2012.  

BBC Review

Pine’s latest explores territories away from typical jazz styles.

Martin Longley 2012

Is Courtney Pine still a jazzman? Does he even want to be? This latest album mostly exists as a calypso session, bookended by some ska and Afro-Latin adventures.

The ingredient that makes it also inhabit the jazz zone is Pine’s saxophone itself, once he bolts out of each tune’s melodic base, flying off into abstract solo space. Pine concentrates almost exclusively on the soprano for this outing, a prime vehicle for his virtuoso contortions.

The Tale of Stephen Lawrence is a contemplative duet with the veteran South African pianist Mervyn Afrika, merging into Kingstonian Swing, featuring the full octet line-up. It’s a bouncing ska jog, with a trombone solo from Rico Rodriguez. Only guitarist Cameron Pierre and drummer Rod Youngs remain from the Pine combos of old, with most of the current crop being fresh inductees.

A tight procession of solos establishes the album’s general busyness. There’s a hard production style, with Youngs’ cymbal-sizzles particularly prominent. Annise Hadeed’s steel pan enters on the cheery romp of Liamuiga, beginning the dominant soca-calypso run.

The album sounds like it’s deliberately designed to sell at gigs, adhering to the easily approachable side of Pine’s repertoire. The adventurous departures always arrive during the course of his solos: not as extended as they used to be, but still compacted with an abundance of impressively speedy notes.

The calypso is stirring at first, but the entire middle stretch locks into that groove, with Youngs' drumbeats cumulatively sounding metronomic, as well as being too dominant in the mix. The Samuel Sharpe tune represents a nadir, as Pine’s EWI (electronic wind instrument) sounds like the worst kind of parping synthesiser abuse.

Certainly, by the sixth track, the rigid beats become extremely tedious. Matters change with Song of the Maroons, as Pine picks up his alto flute and is flanked by a pair of acoustic guitars. Jazz-lypso returns with From the Father to the Son, and then there’s a refreshing arrival of South African vibes, courtesy of guitarist Lucky Ranku.

Unfortunately, the album finishes with another hyperactive dash to the low-budget knees-up, as Tico Tico plumbs new depths in novelty dredging.

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