Despite his OBE and CBE for services to jazz, Courtney Pine has sometimes been treated as an outsider to the music. The doormen at Ronnie Scott’s Soho club who tried to dissuade the 15-year-old Pine from entering, saying the jazz inside wasn’t for him, are one scarring memory showing a sometimes insular scene at its worst.
If Jazzwise magazine naming his new album House of Legends their record of the year signals a rapprochement, his reaction to the news tonight is both delighted and startled. Whether he still needs validation or not, he gets it at the Hideaway, an aptly named south London gem of a club, bigger than Ronnie’s, and with a far more boisterous crowd. He feels right at home even before he starts sipping one of their Courtney Pine cocktails.
House of Legends is a diverse, surprising exploration of Caribbean sounds, and you can see why Pine says he was dancing as he recorded it, as he does tonight from the opening “Kingstonian Swing”, in between a sax solo of high, thin, continuous blowing, a playful demonstration of stamina and skill. Samuel Dubois’s steel trap becomes a percussive lead instrument in this entwined music.
Pine’s closing solo on Bob Marley’s “Redemption Song” will be a quiet cry. The more lyrical, intimate playing he’s quite capable of is otherwise mostly absent, but anyway, it’s not that kind of night. One purpose of jazz is to express the player’s personality, and Pine is an exuberant communicator, joking and evangelising, here to deliver a good time with high skill. He gets everyone grinning, from waitresses to the band.
“Liamuiga (Cook Up)” is supposed to close the show, but in some ways just starts it. The crowd rise to dance as Pine walks into us, playing, then as he hits the two-hour mark he starts to preach. “If you don’t give the youth the opportunity to contribute to the village,” this tireless educator warns, “they will burn it down.” His music keeps striving to bring the village together. Near the very end, he wipes sweat from his brow, and inspects the evidence of his effort as it drops. “Sometimes my dialogue is as important as my music,” he mentions, voice unusually hoarse for a man playing instrumentals. Courtney Pine was once hailed as British jazz’s saviour. On nights like this, he still is.