Insomnia strikes again. I fell asleep at 9pm after a bath, so here I am at midnight, wide awake and choking back whatever it is that causes heartburn. So, I might as well do that track-by-track review of Courtney’s latest that I promised the other week.
DEVOTION: COURTNEY PINE
Three years on from his last album, the king (well, OBE anyway) of UK Jazz has discovered Pro Tools. The result is a more toppy, less “glossy” sound that travels well, and recreates the live Courtney experience perfectly.
A short, introductory burst of an unidentified film soundtrack sample à la Big Audio Dynamite that leads us into…
2. Sister Soul
Classic soprano sax pyrotechnics backed up by Pine’s trademark busy Hammond/guitar groove and some lovely call-and-response texture added by Pine on alto, tenor and baritone sax.
The title track hearkens back to Pine’s reggae days and marks him out as one of the few UK jazzers who can lay down a classic reggae track without sounding mannered or mawkish. The acoustic bass struggles a little to assert itself against the wall of sax.
4. Bless the Weather (with David McAlmont)
Cameron Pierre opens this track, leading into the first “vocal” number, which has the sublime David McAlmont in slightly subdued mood. I get the impression (from live performances, interviews and the various CDs in our collection) that Courtney feels pressured to include a couple of token vocal numbers for the Jazz FM market. So, here’s the first on Devotion. Like most of Pine’s vocal numbers, it’s nice enough: a bit Jan Garbareky, quite poppy and inoffensive. Good for wine bars. I’ve heard better.
5. The Saxophone Song
More sampling and “soundscapism” (it says here). Nice (and I mean that in a totally non Fast Show way)
Ooooh…Courtney does Afro Jazz! Well, you can tell it’s not Osibisa (or Fela, for that matter), but the main melody has a lovely acoustic guitar hook that blends perfectly with the trashy 70s wah wah electric guitar. My dad maintains that you can tell when a non-African tries to play African music because they worry too much about the complex rhythmic interplay and playing in time. There’s plenty of complex interplay here, and Thomas Dyani’s percussion work manages to infuse the track with plenty African groove.
I’m guessing that it’s a deliberate spelling error. We move from Africa to India with a sitar and tabla-based melody over which Courtney’s pure tone sails like a big sax-shaped dhow on the Indian Ocean. You never thought a sax and sitar call-and-response middle section could sound so sweet.
Back home again, with a Motowny melody played on closely harmonised Pine saxophones, interspersed with Cameron Pierre’s classy blues riffs. Rather a mod sound, actually – with hooks nicked from Northern Soul, a bit of Motown, a bit of Soho soul-jazz like what my folks used to play. And Courtney.
9. Karma (with respect to Pharoah Saunders)
Another minute-long soundscape. This man is Pro Tools crazy!
10. When the World Turns Blue
OK, this is where the Courtney worship stops. I admit that I have a problem with Carleen Anderson’s voice – she always sounds like she needs a good laxative to my ears. It’s got a couple of nice hooks to it, but the track sounds dated and rather too Jazz FM. But if it gets him some airplay on Jazz FM and a few more albums sold, good luck to him.
11. Everyday is Everyday
I find it interesting that Courtney Pine appears to have discovered the joy of the Hammond organ. This is a gorgeous little soul-jazz groove, driven by a funky Hammond and guitar combination that’s almost worthy of Jimmy and Wes, interweaved with masterful sax and trombone lines. Lovely stuff – only I think you need to get my husband to do a bit of arranging for you, Court.
12. Outro – With all My Love
Sweet! Pleasant, two-minute tune that winds down the album rather nicely.
The CD has two remixes of When the World Turns Blue – one by 4Hero and one by Malaki – but I don’t know if I can bear sitting through that voice again.