Courtney Pine: Spirituality

The bass clarinettist's broad reading of spirituality includes Chaplin's Smile, Legrand's Windmills Of My Mind and Neal Hefti's Girl Talk


Not many jazz musicians get to talk about their latest work on the BBC. But the esteemed Courtney Pine (long rightly seen as the most consequential British jazz musician of Jamaican descent since Joe Harriott) did so recently. In November 2022 Pine spoke about Spirituality – his first release in some years – on the BBC Radio 4 programme Sunday, which the BBC describes as “a look at the ethical and religious issues of the week”.

Touching on his early Methodist background and the gospel element in Black Water (the reflective opening piece here), Pine spoke briefly of how the music of Spirituality had come after a difficult period in his life. While that might go some way to explaining the presence here of Charlie Chaplin’s Smile and Michel Legrand’s Windmills Of My Mind, the whole programme evinces a desire to embrace the “breathing” essence of life in as broad and generous (yet focused) a way as possible. 

Hence a mélange of material that includes the Welsh hymn Ayr Hod Y Nos, Neal Hefti’s Girl Talk, the Rodgers-Hart Blue Moon and Irving Berlin’s What’ll I Do?. The concluding Your Majesty is a flowing and touching tribute to the late British queen, conceived some time before her death, while the timeless Motherless Child joins Pine’s brief, keening and historically pointed Spirituality (Interlude) in conjuring memories of his Song (The Ballad Book) from 2015, with its versions of Amazing Grace and Come Sunday.

Like Song, Spirituality features Pine’s long-time collaborator, the excellent Zoe Rahman, who contributes a fine range of chordal colour and exploratory linear complement to Pine’s diverse ruminations, which he delivers throughout on bass clarinet. Sample, for example, the range of dynamics, feeling and rhythm Rahman brings to such contrasting numbers as Girl Talk and Motherless Child. A string quartet graces several pieces, never to overblown effect and with the unusual inclusion of two violas contributing to an apposite overall depth of texture, mood and melodic exposition.

(1) Black Water; (2) Smile; (1) Windmills Of My Mind; (2) Ayr Hod Y Nos; (1) Girl Talk; (2) Blue Moon; (1) Motherless Child; (2) What’ll I Do; (3) Spirituality (Interlude); (2) Your Majesty (41.45)
(1) Pine (bcl); Zoe Rahman (p). London, January 2022. (2) as (1) plus Elaine Blair (vn); Natalie Taylor, Mira Glenn (vla); Jenny Adejayan (clo). (3) as (1) but Rahman out.
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