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Courtney Pine: Devotion

After fashioning his own West Indian-influenced brand of neobop in the ’80s, saxophonist Courtney Pine reached a creative high in 1995 with Modern Day Jazz Stories (Verve), on which he fused burning, Trane-esque exploits with soul-jazz and hip-hop, resulting in one of the best displays of jazz’s flirtation with DJ culture. Modern Day Jazz Stories has since functioned as a template for Pine’s succeeding albums, but none have been as potent.

Eclecticism has always been one of Pine’s greatest strengths but it has also worked against him, as it does on Devotion. The CD doesn’t feature Pine integrating disparate idioms so much as it finds him simply skipping from R&B to soul-jazz to ska to Afro-beat. The Caribbean flavors that flow through cuts like the ragamuffin-inflected title track and the bouncy “Everyday Is Everyday” should come as no surprise, given Pine’s Jamaican heritage. But those songs are rather lackluster because his animated tenor playing is pushed behind scruffy, overdubbed saxophone riffs, canned beats and serviceable organ jabs. The Motownish “U.K.” and slick “Sister Soul” never catch fire, despite Pine’s swaggering soprano riffs and flashy circular breathing. Even veteran U.K. soul singers Carleen Anderson and David McAlmont, on “When the World Turns Blue” and “Bless the Weather,” respectively, can’t enliven the perfunctory renderings. Only during the joyous “Osibisa,” a track with majestic horns, tickling guitar licks and buoyant bass, does Devotion come alive.

Originally Published