Courtney Pine and his bass clarinet are warmth embodied. The renowned father of modern British Jazz – whose broad musical style spans classical, jazz, soul and experimental styles– performed his new emotionally-nourishing Spirituality album in Kings Place: a contemporary venue just off Granary Square.
Growing up in Notting Hill, the epicentre of London’s African and Caribbean populations, Pine encountered a host of different genres in his youth.
‘In housing estates, you hear reggae, techno, classical; you walk through a flat and hear a random mix. But it becomes harmonious, like mixing cultures to get something different, shocking, and stimulating.’ he told the Guardian in 2000. ‘I’d get home from a jazz gig and play ska, or early 4 Hero, or Goldie. So I made a conscious effort to fuse the two, to inspire myself again.’
With records like Journey to the Urge Within (1990) challenging the listener with everything from scatting to cinematic sax-y soundscapes and Back in the Day (2000) displaying rapping over soulful R&B fusion, Courtney has distinguished his musical voice through a distillation of his colourful upbringing.
He wore a black tunic and trouser set with matching shawl whose woven patterns only revealed themselves turning in the light. From the balcony, I could see the yin-yang atop his slippers.
Immediately, he exploded into a flurry of notes – screeching highs and foghorn lows, the glissandi that connected them, and the pizzicato that punctuated them. It was a primal energy he seemed to connect to every time his lips met his reed, with closed eyes and a loose, content stage presence. On holding the final note, he jumped to the beat and applause couldn’t wait to start.
‘I am Courtney Pine and I love jazz’ he said in his self-professed ‘Westminster boy’ accent.
Not long after, he welcomed pianist Zoe Rahman onto the stage, wearing a beautiful kurta in lapis lazuli, with golden edges. Embroidered into it were crystals that broadcast their colours to everyone as she moved and caught the light.
A star in her own right, Rahman’s style is just as broad; from formal classical and jazz education to musically reconnecting with her Bengali heritage, her sound is iconic. With an airy presence and wide smile, she began a glittering solo while Courtney stood by the piano and closed his eyes.
Through standards, originals and hymns like Amazing Grace, the pair – alongside a trio of strings players – converted passion and technical wizardry into an energy that filled the room.
When he called out his new composition, Black Water, it was a special moment; with a delicate accompaniment and low, booming clarinet motif, the song opened into improv, at points convincing me to tears with its sheer musicality. In true Pine warmth, he called out to Zoe’s daughter in the audience ‘Jasmine what did you think of that piano solo?’ – Mum got a big thumbs up.
Their final performance of the night, Your Majesty, was dedicated to the late monarch, Queen Elizabeth II. Speaking about the day he received his OBE in 2000, he told us about how he’d just started growing Locs and ended up meeting the Queen with a hairnet on and an intriguing mention of a bottle of Buckingham Palace vodka which never really concluded and drifted off into audience banter. Telling her ‘I’m gonna write a tune for you’ over 21 years ago, the composition was finally completed in 2021 but debuted that night, just months after her death. Never losing his reverence, he asked that we stand to honour her at the end and as we rose, he left the stage to an improvised standing ovation.