Courtney wows the Wolsey

Courtney Pine Sextet - New Wolsey Theatre, Ipswich on February 15 Jazz giant Courtney Pine's New Wolsey Theatre debut was simply breathtaking - his playing certainly took my breath away and, at times, it left the man himself gasping for air as well.

Courtney Pine Sextet - New Wolsey Theatre, Ipswich on February 15

Jazz giant Courtney Pine's New Wolsey Theatre debut was simply breathtaking - his playing certainly took my breath away and, at times, it left the man himself gasping for air as well.

The 43 year old multi-instrumentalist has been a leading figure on the UK music scene for well over twenty years now, releasing a dozen albums and receiving an OBE for his services to jazz. The New Wolsey was packed for a show inspired by the music of New Orleans saxophone legend Sidney Bechet.

Anyone expecting note for note renditions of Bechet's groundbreaking work or even new interpretations of material associated with Bechet would have been a little disappointed but they weren't short-changed. Most of the music performed was penned by Pine and all the original tunes were inspired by Bechet.


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The first number, Haiti, was a real statement of intent from the big man. Playing the bass clarinet he held a note for what seemed like an eternity and it was a trick he went on to repeat later on towards the end of the concert. I hope they had an oxygen tank standing by because at one point I thought he was going to need one.

For the first half of the show Pine alternated between the bass clarinet and a beautiful looking and sounding silver soprano saxophone. After the interval we were also treated to a few tunes on the alto flute and one of the numbers he performed on that I'm sure he incorporated a few bars of Jethro Tull's Living In The Past.

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Pine's love of Sidney Bechet's music began when he heard the Crescent City favourite's version of Gershwin's Summertime and that perennial jazz favourite found its way into the mix along with the Nat King Cole standard When I Fall In Love. For the most part though this was a feast of original modern jazz served on a bed of sumptuous rhythms ranging from reggae to the Latino sounds of Cuba.

The title of the show was Transition In Tradition and it was hard to believe what we heard wasn't the finished product. It's very much a work in progress and I do hope it becomes a recorded work. If it does it will undoubtedly be hailed a 21st century jazz classic.

While Courtney Pine was the star of the show his five musicians shone throughout, particularly pianist Alex Wilson who knew exactly when to play and, as importantly, when not to. Double bassist Darren Taylor was using an instrument supplied by Sudbury company Sandarac and along with drummer Robert Fordjour he gave the rest of the sextet the springboard from which to flex their musical muscles.

Pine went to great pains to point out that jazz is constantly evolving. He was probably preaching to the converted but it may have given one or two in the audience a timely reminder that jazz remains a potent force and refuses to stagnate.

The multi-award winning reeds man clearly enjoyed his first appearance at the New Wolsey and he'll surely be back to breathe yet more new life into a form of music that means the world to him.

Stephen Foster

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