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Courtney Pine, St George’s June 9

June 10, 2011

Pine pulled a good crowd at St George’s, which must have been a relief for all concerned after a general depression in audiences over the last couple of months. He’s a hard-working musician, with a good band, and deserves the following. Reviews of this tour at the outset were good, too. Still, the other pair of ears and I came away with quite a few reservations about the gig.

It is unusual for a jazz set to sound better on a studio recording than it does live, but Pine may have managed this with his rather nice new release Europa. On the studio set, everything sounds good, solos are mostly considered, the pieces add up to an interesting suite over an hour or so.

On stage, all a bit different. You could hear everything, but the amplification added a harsh edge to the sound of every instrument, even the piano, and left the feature bass clarinet with an oddly hollow timbre. And the presentation of the tunes left one feeling that the leader might do well to hire an arranger. In the first half, especially, each one was the taking off point for one of those long solos when everyone else stands around looking underemployed. Most of the soloing was a bit dull, and with minimal interaction with the band – who mostly play endless repeated figures behind whoever is freaking out at the time – the set dragged well before the end.

The second half improved, with a nice ballad performance of Mary Seacole, and lots of Zoe Rahman on piano, the most interesting player of the night by some way. Even her main solo feature was a little stretched, though, with the leader declining to come in through many glances his way signalling that it might be time for a change – taking her excursion to the fifteen minute mark. She had plenty to play, and the drums built and relaxed intensity effectively, but it was still a big chunk all at once.

The leader then launched into another clarinet marathon which ended on repeated high register notes that brought to mind Miles‘ advice to Coltrane when he claimed he didn’t know how to stop – “just take the horn out your mouth”.

So some good music, some thin times, and lots of grandstanding – adding up to a bit less than the sum of its parts. Editing in real time is a difficult trick, but by 11.00 it felt like a gig that could have been twice as good at half the length.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. phil johnson permalink
    June 11, 2011 8:03 am

    100% agreed, sometimes you don’t want a show, you just want music

  2. June 17, 2011 4:26 pm

    Ha! Are you allowed to say that…?

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