Courtney Pine: Suffolk, UK, September 20, 2012
Drummond took her viola on a journey of discovery and made pops, clicks, slides, off-key cadences and melodious tunes with a brilliance readily acknowledged by the audience. Rahman gave her piano a life of its own. She plays with such fervor and devotion that she seems to disappear into its depths at some points, sending sweet, heartrending notes back. Then she lets rip with harsh, off key scales which tear your heart apart again-wonderful.
Taylor took his double bass into realms no double bass should ever go, guided it, cajoled and then returned to the tune with a grin of such divinity on his face you might think he were fresh out of the seminary. The drums underpinned everything-sometimes with a gentle touch of brushes, other times the heavy, rhythmic thud of a bass drum. Pierre gave me a new respect for the mandolin. Pierre played a range of tunes and harmonies-yes there was some plucking but it felt more like a conversation between the musician and the instrument.
Pine played solos, carried the tunes and backed the band up with dexterity, musicianship and a character that came through in his playing. He looked not quite at home onstage, which is endearing, and when he played, whatever spirit possessed him was benign in nature and served only to draw the audience in. There were several moments when Pine took riffs and tunes, squashed them beneath his metaphorical feet and then carefully gathered up the precious pieces to recreate the melodies.
He finished with something for everyone, in a pastiche of tunes blending into each other, from "Happy Birthday" and "Wondering Star" to "Daughters of Elysium," some pop songs and too many others to mention.
Pine's rapport with the audience was really good. He regaled between numbers with tales about his wife and when he arrived at a barn dance and was stared at because they, "had never seen a jazz musician before." He exuded a warmth which the audience picked up readily. Pine also said he was amazed at how warmly he had been received. He said he had, at times, arrived at gigs only to be "blanked" by management, shown the stage and set, and basically told to get on with it.
So it seems that here, in the heart of middle England, Pine felt at home and I, for one, was glad he did. I have seen him before and what is great about him is that he tailors his playing to suit the audience, so you get a different gig every time. Yes, he wants to show off his latest album and yes, he wants to shock a little if he can get away with it and yes, oh yes, he wants to play some free jazz in there; but above everything, Pine is the consummate commercial jazz artist, ensuring his audience enjoys the performance, making it a show, tweaking the amount of straight-ahead or free jazz in the program according to who is listening, working hard and ensuring people will listen to his music and help maintain his huge presence on the British music scene.
In one concert he managed to include a bit of drum 'n' bass, mainstream jazz, free form (his Brötzmann moments), straight-ahead and standards while, at the same time, letting people know what he is about right now. Something for everyone can be found if you listen long enough.
Over time, Pine has presented the British public with several images, from young rebel to mature jazz player, and you get the feeling that now Pine is totally happy in his skin in and completely at ease where he is with his music. The standing ovation he received at the end of the gig was a surprise to him-or so he let us believe-but well deserved.
At the end of the evening, I was happy because Pine had included some free form, but he had also made sure he included material to suit the audience-another time there would be more unfettered blowing. I also liked the rest of the material and my unwilling beloved, who I had persuaded to come along, enjoyed the gig as well, surprising both of us. That little demon which possesses Pine when he plays definitely had a ball.
On a final coda, Pine rashly announced at the end of the concert, that he would sign any programs which had not sold (the monies were going to charity) or that people had bought. As I left, I could not help but grin because Pine was standing signing at the head of a queue of about 200 people. He would be there for some time.