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Reviewers: Tony Augarde [Editor], Don Mather, Sam Webster, Jonathan Woolf, Glyn Pursglove

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Transition in Tradition

Destin-E World 777C005005




1. Haiti
2. New Orleans
3. Le Matin est Noire
4. Transition in Tradition
5. Toussaint L'Ouverture
6. The Tale Of Joe Harriott
7. The Sound Of Jazz?
8. Creole Swing
9. Afropean
10. Au Revoir
Courtney Pine - Soprano sax, bass clarinet, alto flute
Omar Puente - Electric violin
Cameron Pierre - Acoustic guitar, electric guitar, mandolin
Alex Wilson - Acoustic piano, electric organ, harmonium
Darren Taylor - Double bass
Robert Fordjour - Drums, castanets, tambourine, iron
Stefon Harris - Vibes, marimba (tracks 1, 6, 8, 9)
Harry Brown - Trombone (tracks 4, 7)
Jay Phelps - Trumpet, flugelhorn (tracks 5, 8, 9)
Nathaniel Facey - Alto sax (tracks 5, 8, 9)
Paul "Shanti" Jayasinha - Flugelhorn (track 10)

I am in two minds about Courtney Pine, which are summed up in my review of Empirical's debut CD in 2007. My emotions are still mixed after listening to this album several times. It is dedicated to Sidney Bechet, the pioneer of the soprano saxophone, but the connection with Bechet is tenuous. The album contains none of Bechet's compositions and no tunes associated with him, and Courtney's soprano sax sounds nothing like Bechet's. The nearest reference we get is Creole Swing, which Courtney's sleeve-notes say mix two different time-signatures  - like Sidney Bechet, who "had no qualms on mixing musical elements or techniques that he liked".

In fact the whole album is a rather strange mixture of styles, including Caribbean, South American and even Klezmer. The instrumentation includes mandolin, harmonium and castanets. Courtney Pine composed and arranged all the CD's tracks and it seems as if he has thrown together a ragbag of styles. Sometimes it works; sometimes it doesn't.

For example, the opening Haiti mingles Haitian beats with folkloric tendencies, plus wild jazz from Courtney's bass clarinet. But Stefon Harris's marimba solo is very effective. New Orleans (aka Crescent City Rise) mixes together the sort of sounds you might have heard at various times in the Crescent City. Courtney's soprano sax swirls around; guitarist Cameron Pierre contributes a more straight-ahead solo; and Alex Wilson starts his solo in stride-piano mode.

Le Matin est Noire (sic) gets its title from an Archie Shepp tune, and it is almost folky in its four-squareness until it suddenly turns into a mournful Spanish lament. The title-track contains elements of reggae, and Courtney's soprano sax again swirls about dementedly. Toussaint L'Ouverture starts as a somewhat gloomy tribute to the Haitian revolutionary leader who combated slavery. The mood cheers up with Alex Wilson's Latin-American piano solo.

The Tale of Joe Harriott is another tribute: this time to the Jamaican altoist who came to Britain in 1951 and pioneered free improvisation. Pine's alto flute sounds sad. The Sound of Jazz? has a weird oom-pah beat which turns into a reggae rhythm (more dexterous guitar from Cameron Pierrre) and then into salsa (with Omar Puente's violin prominent). Each section is divided by a sort of funeral march!

Stefon Harris reappears on vibes in Creole Swing, which has touches of the "Latin tinge" but also bits of reggae. Afropean has the sound of South African townships and is Courtney's homage to the black South African exiles who emigrated to Britain. The closing Au Revoir also has a touch of African influence.

The sleeve-note includes Courtney Pine's gratitude in these less-than-modest words: "THANX to almighty Jah for guiding me to the truth of the past, the present and the future". One truth that Courtney seems to think he has discovered is that jazz is in a constant state of flux - something that most jazz devotees have known for years. The result of Courtney's revelation is an album that might be regarded as either a bit of a mess or a healthy exercise in eclecticism. I am still in two minds about Courtney Pine.

Tony Augarde





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