Courtney Pine ‘Black Notes From The Deep’ CD/LP/DIG (Freestyle) 4/5

In recent years, multi-reedist Courtney Pine has expanded his repertoire to include re-investigating the jazz tradition as well as more experimental work with a new generation of musicians. This latest album finds him in reflective mode, and is arguably his most lyrical outing and certainly one of the most balanced albums in terms of the sheer diversity of material. Singer, Omar Lyefook, performs on four vocal numbers and of these an immediate track to garner extensive radio play is a faithful reading of Herbie Hancock’s ‘Butterfly’, which has always belonged among the soulful side of the pianist’s repertoire, but here is given an added layer of soulfulness with the deeply gospel-inflected background vocals of Charleen Hamilton. An obvious choice for the first single and likely to propel the album to a wider audience. A real favourite for this writer is the Hammond organ with bossa drum beat accompaniment to ‘In another time’, with Pine this time alternating on flute, and what a fine exponent he is of that reed instrument, and Omar once again providing some emotive lead vocals. The waltz-like groove of ‘A change is sure to come’, is notable for an improvised saxophone intro before flute takes over. The titles overall reflect a thoughtful musician who is increasingly conscious of the world around him and the need to incorporate social commentary (without ever falling into the trap of being too preachy), albeit in a largely instrumental idiom, into his work from the perspective of a sage with an overview of contemporary society.

Part of the reason for this album sounding so fresh is the excellence of the rhythm section with Robert Mitchell on piano, Alec Dankworth on acoustic bass, and Rod Youngs on drums. It is the balladry work that truly impresses on the album, with ‘Rivers of blood’ featuring a delightful piano and bass intro, before Pine’s tenor enters softly. Mitchell takes a welcome solo on the quality ballad that is, ‘You know who you are’, and in general, this is some fo Courtney Pine’s finest compositional writing to date, and that places him in the wider tradition of saxophone greats. Stark sounding piano greets the listener on the mournful sounding, ‘A word to the wise’, and quite a bleak piece to end the album as a whole on.

This is an album that is likely to stand the test of time and even detractors will have to concede that Courtney Pine is fully on song and with a cohesive band to match.

Tim Stenhouse