Album reviews

Courtney Pine – ‘Spirituality’

Courtney Pine – Spirituality

(Destin-E. 777103579X. CD Review by Patrick Hadfield)

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In what might be considered a sequel to their 2015 release Song (The Ballad Book) – reviewed for us by the late and much-missed Andy Boeckstaens, link below – Courtney Pine, playing solely bass clarinet, has again teamed up with pianist Zoe Rahman for another set of tunes. Half of the pieces are originals, the others borrowed from a variety of sources – though not necessarily jazz standards. They’re joined on half the tracks by a string quartet, the string parts arranged by Pine.

Pine’s tone is deep and rich, even when playing in the bass clarinet’s upper register. His free flowing solos move at a relaxed pace, the whole album having a pleasantly chilled approach. It’s not short on emotional impact, though.

Much of the success of the record depends on Rahman’s very fine and sensitive piano playing. Her presence is at times minimal, doing just enough: here, less is definitely more. At others, she steps more into the foreground, acting as a perfect foil for Pine.

The same is true of the strings, which act as a balance to the tones of Pine’s bass clarinet, and are the source of a wide range of contrasting textures.

The choice of tunes is also central to the album. The inclusion of the Welsh hymn Ayr Hod y Nos (sic – it is more commonly written as Ar Hyd y Nos) came about after they played it at a gig at the Brecon Jazz Festival in Wales, and many in the audience started to sing along. Realising the importance of the tune, he arranged it to feature the cello as a foil to lines played by Pine.

The traditional spiritual Motherless Child is particularly affecting.  It opens with a drone and a rumbling bass chord from Rahman, Pine playing at the top of his clarinet’s compass, seemingly crying. Rahman plays a beautifully sparse solo before she settles into a slow groove over which manages to be both heartfelt and funky.

It is probably the final track which will garner most attention, though. Dedicated to the late Queen Elizabeth II, and recorded before her death in September, Pine wrote Your Majesty knowing that she appreciated jazz but hadn’t had any pieces written for her recently. It stands as a memorial to her.

Patrick Hadfield lives in Edinburgh, occasionally takes photographs, and sometimes blogs at On the Beat. Twitter: @patrickhadfield; Mastodon:

LINK: Review of Song The Ballad Book from 2015

Buy Spirituality

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