Review: Courtney Pine Europa at Bath

Courtney Pine,
(Bath Pavilion, Bath International Music Festival, 2nd June 2012. Review by Alison Bentley)

Flashback to the 80s: Courtney Pine in the Jazz Warriors charming the audience with his Coltrane sound and sharp suits. The 90s: Pine persuading the audience to listen to his ‘new music’, with hiphop, DJs and scratch. Fast forward to 2012: a gig from his Europa tour, in a World Heritage City festival, drawing on European folk themes and myths gleaned on his travels. He still stalks the stage, now shaking his braids and flowing black garments, and almost brandishing the bass clarinet ( his chosen instrument for Europa). He pushes his music to the edge but always checks behind to make sure the audience is still with him.

‘We go to a point where we don’t know what we’re going to play and start from there,’ he said. Though Europa is his most scored venture, it was hard to tell where complex writing -in many time signatures- ended, and wild improvising began. It was a surprise when the viola and clarinet harmonised what had sounded like improvisation, the similar timbres blending well together.

In their improvising the band all drew on many musical genres . Zoe Rahman on piano invoked McCoy Tyner, Monk and Chick Corea, Ligeti and Rachmaninov, using the resonance of the whole piano. In the ballad La Reserche du SangrealDarwin’s Dream Deferred the audience cheered her solos. Amanda Drummond‘s viola had at times a classical/rock sensibility, like the Kronos Quartet playing Hendrix, or bluesy jazz-folk, like Regina Carter. The audience loved her gypsy passion in the Eastern Deuteronomy. Darren Taylor‘s bass solos were alternately arco and pizzicato, not just for novelty, but heartfelt and musical. Versatile Robert Fordjour played everything from fiery Elvin Jones-style drumming to Afro-Indian thrumming beats.

Pine’s own solos range from wild abstract seven-octave Evan Parker flurries (like drawing in the air with sparklers on bonfire night) to smooth emotive ballad lines. Didgeridoo drones turned into the fluttering ornamentation of the Bulgarian kaval. There were deep bubbling tones and squeals in Greek Fire, and a skirling pipe tone in the pentatonic They Came From the North. Pine draws on the huge musical repertoire in his head- Dolphy’s free abstractions, Rollins’ rhythms, Coltrane’s intensity. There are dozens of fast little quotes that make the audience laugh-Peter and the Wolf, A Policeman’s Lot is Not a Happy One, Beethoven’s 5th- and was that really a few bars of God Save the Queen?

Courtney Pine is still totally committed to the jazz he learned from the greats on the bandstand with Art Blakey, as well his ‘new music’. He’s uncompromising, but because he wants us to share the music, he’s a great entertainer too.

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