Assured acoustic jazz, lush ballads to tempestuous post-bop, from an all-star band.
Daniel Spicer 2011
Since Courtney Pine burst into the public consciousness with his debut, Journey to the Urge Within, in 1986, he’s inhabited a number of overlapping personae: from neo-con hard-bop young lion to respected broadcaster and CBE. For a British jazz musician, he’s enjoyed unrivalled chart success and a consistently high profile bordering on ‘national treasure’ status.
In the 1990s, albums such as Modern Day Jazz Stories diverted a lot of energy into attempting to tap into the contemporary urban sounds of hip hop and jungle, with varying success. So, purists will welcome this album’s return to jazz. Apart from a couple of (mercifully brief) bursts of dated drum’n’bass rhythm, this is assured acoustic jazz, ranging from lush ballads to tempestuous post-bop, played by an all-star band including drummer Mark Mondesir, pianist Zoe Rahman and rising clarinettist Shabaka Hutchins. Still, there is an element of innovation, in that this is the first of Pine’s recordings in which he forgoes the saxophone completely and plays only bass clarinet: mining its rich, woody timbres, investigating overblown harmonics and frequently spinning out into lengthy, tumbling solos that owe more to John Coltrane’s diamond-hard intensity than the wonky genius of bass clarinet proselytiser, Eric Dolphy.
There’s an element of the exotic about his choice of horn that suits the album’s compositions, many of which conflate touches of middle-eastern music and Celtic reels with klezmer and jazz, creating a globetrotting hybrid reminiscent of Lloyd Miller’s ethno-jazz experiments. All this is done in the service of the album’s overarching concept – an attempt to examine African influences on the origins and development of the continent of Europe. And it has to be said, this is the project’s main failing, with lengthy but sloppy sleeve notes struggling to hold together a muddled story of ancient Egyptian priests, Moorish conquerors and Viking pygmies. Of course, we can overlook the spelling mistakes and sixth-form grammar but when Pine baldly states that Darwin’s Dream Deferred is "a bid to prove that Darwin’s concept on evolution was premature and incorrect" – with no qualification or explanation – one can’t help raising an eyebrow. Enough with the lectures already, Courtney.