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“WHEN I DRESS up in a suit and stand on stage I feel different, I feel serious. It’s the best music that I’ve ever heard, so i don’t see why I should turn up in my pyjamas.”
Miles Davis can cantankerously take the piss out of jazz all he likes, but it will change Courtney Pine’s seriousness. Pine is 22 and Davis, 60 – a lot can happen in 38 years.
The most important thing to note is that jazz is older than both and will almost certainly outlast the pair of them. And that’s what makes Pine as serious as a heart-attack. He is being ravished by his discovery of his belonging to history, to Tradition. I don’t care what the palid reptiles massed in Jazz Necropolis Central have to say on the matter; Courtney got it bad, and that is very, very good.
What is also good is his saxophone playing. True, it is an unwieldy mass of influences at present, pivoting on the drenched cusp that separates Coltrane from Shorter – but that’s his privilege. He can play. He’s not an experimentalist, he’s a romantic investigating the nobility of his line and some day soon his voice will come with the certainty of a spike through soft tissue.
‘Journey To The Urge Within’, earnestly annotated by the saxophonist himself and over-tense in its desire to cover as many bases as possible, is not a great record. But it is an extremely arresting document of what he’s trying to do. Pine’s own tunes predominate and they are, not surprisingly, a trifle callow and tricksy, aching with a desperate invention but why of the simplicity that makes for great writing (Wayne, f’rinstance). Too many themes, like on the opening cut ‘Miss-interpret’, kick time around like a ball on a string, the ball always bouncing back to base, but remaining murderously difficult to control and improvise with. Often the rhythm-section spills into raggedness as a consequence (though it is worth noting that ‘Mis-interpret’ Pine’s soprano harries Ray Carless’s baritone with an alarming, wildly exciting dogged-ness on the fade-out – perhaps the album’s one moment of real inspiration).
Horace Silver’s ‘Peace’, though hampered by one or two more rhythm-section uncertainties, it the place where you realise that this guy is on his way to a fabulous tenor tone – just a (tellingly poetic) touch flat in intonation and hard as ebony. Do it to me, you big softy. There’s so much more locked in and waiting to come out through this grain than in so many of the perfectly pitched tenors that lumber across the Atlantic.
All that’s left to ponder is what will be the consequences of the best-selling British Jazz record in history? Will ‘Journey…”’ rabid earnestness alienate all those who swallowed the hype in hope of a better soundtrack to Absolute Beginners? Or will those same hopefuls detect in the record’s scrunched countenance the hopeful joy that is the natural companion to integrity? Let’s wait and see.
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