Jazz has always bamboozled me somewhat. I certainly did not have a great introduction to the genre. As an impressionable 15 year old I was forced to watch a local jazz band in a small village pub near Plymouth whilst a brigade of blue rinse, Littlewoods clothed folk tapped their arthritic feet along merrily. It was all a bit beyond me, as I wondered why the musicians had forgotten about such basics as melodies and tunes.
However, as time went on and my path found me accidentally in front of other pub jazz outfits I began to find quite a great deal to admire. The complex and free flowing solos, each member of the band patiently waiting whilst another went off on one and the relaxed demeanour of almost every jazz musician I have met.
So in order to continue to broaden my musical horizons, I went to see the legend of British jazz, Courtney Pine and his band.
The place was barely a quarter full when the support of Rodrigo y Gabriela take to the stage, a Mexican sibling duo that mix flamenco acoustic guitar with metal riffs. They achieve truly incredible sounds from their guitars. Bass drum, bongos and believe it or not the first guitar born acid line that I have ever heard all make an appearance. Many in the audience who have not heard this pair before will surely be first in line for tickets to their headline tour in April, myself included.
Pine and his band arrive on stage to a criminally half full venue. While vacuous and vapid pop "stars", such as Gareth Gates and Westlife fill cavernous arenas, musicians with oceans of talent such as Pine are forced to thank the crowd for coming out and supporting British jazz.
Playing from his latest album, Devotion, Courtney Pine has a tremendous ability to play to each person in the crowd individually. He catches your eye whilst embarking on relentlessly extravagant solos on his saxophone, making even the stiffest smile and groove along. Guitarist Cameron Pierre comes to the fore, playing slightly schmaltzy instrumentals before the double bass player, dressed cryptically in an Italian national football shirt, weighs in with a virtuoso solo pluck.
A great cover of Bob Marley‘s classic, Redemption Song, is followed by probably the highlight of the set. Dennis Robins and his trombone begin their particular musical odyssey, exploding the big band shackles of his instrument. The music flows from quick jazz to some great lo-fi exploration accompanied by some trip hop beats. Collective creative juices in full flow, Pine returns, joining Robins’ trombone before he launches into his final inconceivably long solo. The band walk off stage to warm if not rapturous applause and are immediately back launching into the partying encore.
At a time when Britain has fallen back in love with Rock and Roll and the rise of Dido and Norah Jones are occupying the masses, it is perhaps not surprising that Pine’s brand of instrumental jazz has taken a little of a back seat in terms of audience participation. However, he remains a master of his art and it truly is a mesmerising experience to watch him play. Maybe the pub introductions were worth it after all.