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Courtney Pine: House of Legends

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Nearly three decades since emerging as a solo artist, Courtney Pine remains a thrilling showman on the saxophone, prone to show off his virtuosity-especially his mastery of circular breathing-even when it’s not necessarily in service of the music. Pine’s expansive musical vocabulary has in the past played to his disadvantage, especially when he mars his music with canned electronica beats.

On House of Legends he comes correct, delivering a rousing set of originals dedicated to various West Indian and African historical figures, including Samuel Sharpe, Claudia Jones and Leslie Hutchinson. Except for sparse use of the EWI and electric guitar, Pine keeps the proceedings mostly acoustic as he complements his expressive improvisations with an intriguing instrumentation that sometimes expands to include steel drums, violins and viola. Ebullient Caribbean rhythms and melodies are at the fore throughout, with highlights like the calypso-tinged “Claudia Jones” and ska-flavored “Kingstonian Swing.”

Still, when Pine simmers his firepower, his improvisations prove most moving. Cases in point: the chamber-music meets-zouk ballad “Ça C’est Bon Ça” and the opening “The Tale of Stephen Lawrence,” featuring Pine in a bracing duet with pianist Mervyn Africa.

Originally Published