“Can I have a good time tonight?” Courtney Pine is the man asking the question and the sell-out audience in the Howard Assembly Room tonight are those who are answering unequivocally in the affirmative. And having sought their permission, Pine proceeds to do exactly that.
Last here almost 12 months ago with the celebrated pianist Zoe Rahman, and then performing on the bass clarinet, Courtney Pine recalls playing “a load of lullabies” on that occasion. Now he brings with him to Leeds a completely new project. This time Pine is in collaboration with the British singer Omar, a man often credited as being the founder of nu-classic soul. Together the two men fuse the central elements of jazz and soul with energy, improvisation and huge smiles on their faces.
Drawing material destined for his as-yet-unreleased new album Black Notes From The Deep, the record sees Courtney Pine returning to the tenor saxophone for the first time in a decade. The instrument with which Pine is most often associated and the one that he has now been playing the longest, the confident virtuosity of his saxophone playing announced his arrival more than 30 years ago as one of the very first black musicians to make a firm imprint on the jazz scene on this side of the Atlantic.
Together with the quietly magnificent musical talents of Robert Mitchell on piano and organ, drummer Robert Fordjour and Vidal Montgomery on double bass, the two protagonists weave their way through material from Black Notes From The Deep with warmth, imagination and a soulful intensity that has perhaps not always been heard in Pine’s music in more recent times. It is music that reflects Pine’s experiences of modern life in the United Kingdom and coming at a time of often huge conflict and social and cultural division in the country it is a most welcome clarion call for unity.
Demonstrating his versatility, Pine picks up the flute for ‘A Change Is Sure To Come’ whilst on the ensuing ‘You Know Who You Are’, a track that Pine describes as being “symbolic of our times,” he turns to the EWI (a form of electronic sax) and proceeds to induce, cajole and ultimately exhort a mesmerisingly wide range of emotion from both of these instruments.
It is Omar’s turn in the spotlight for ‘There’s Nothing Like This’, the 1991 hit single that first brought him to much wider attention. The two men then engage in a playful end-of-the-pier call-and-response routine with the audience which Pine, when comparing the occasion with his last show in the Howard Assembly Room, measures in the distance that separates “ballads and quiet tunes and sexual innuendo and Kama Sutra references.” He may well be guilty of exaggerating to make his point, but the differences in his last two musical projects are undoubtedly there for all to hear.
Following a delightful detour through Billy Taylor’s unofficial anthem for the US civil rights movement “I Wish I Knew (How It Would Feel to Be Free)” (perhaps better known as the theme music from Barry Norman’s Film Night), the five men reconvene for a spirited take on Herbie Hancock’s ‘Butterfly’. Courtney Pine tells us that such was the vibe and energy in the room tonight they had played half an hour longer than first intended. Judging by the reception that he receives at the end you have absolutely no reason to doubt what he says.
Photo Credit: Simon Godley
More photos from this concert can be found HERE
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