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Black Notes From The Deep


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Performer Notes
  • Personnel: Courtney Pine (bass flute, tenor saxophone); Omar (vocals); Robert Mitchell (piano, electric piano); Ed Bentley (electric organ); Alec Dankworth (double bass); Rod Youngs (drums, timpani).
  • Photographer: Alfred Bailey.
  • Arranger: Omar.
  • The last time Courtney Pine played tenor saxophone in the studio was on 2005's Resistance. Since then, we've heard him use his soprano horn, bass clarinet, flutes, and more in programs as diverse as 2009's Tradition in Transition -- an homage to Sidney Bechet that re-opened NOLA jazz's embrace of Afro-Cuban and Caribbean sounds -- to 2015's Song (The Ballad Book), a bass clarinet duo offering with pianist Zoe Rahman.
  • Black Notes from the Deep places Pine in mostly quartet settings, backed by his working band with pianist Robert Mitchell, bassist Alec Dankworth, and drummer Rod Youngs. In addition, nearly half this set features the vocals of old friend and labelmate Omar Lye-Fook MBE in a series of tracks that refract modern jazz through the lens of 21st century soul. The set's first single is a gorgeous, break-laden reading of Herbie Hancock's "Butterfly" with Omar's slightly reedy baritone up front and Charleen Hamilton on backing vocals. The tune's initial bars suggest Freddie Hubbard's "Red Clay" before being transformed into an elegant, popping, jazz-funk groover. Pine's horn fills add weight to Omar's singing, but the saxophonist also employs an EWI and synth solo for textural contrast. It's a radio and streaming hit and deserves to be. Another Omar highlight is "Darker Than Blue," introduced by Dankworth's bass and Pine's horn and bass flute. Mitchell's addition of an organ to his piano adds a sultry element to Omar's bluesy soul. "Rivers of Blood"'s title directly references Tory MP Enoch Powell's infamous 1968 racist speech at Birmingham's Conservative Political Centre and is particularly poignant given the rise of Donald Trump and Theresa May. It's a classic Pine modal meditation, built up from shimmering minor piano chords while the tenor slowly and passionately moans. The funky Latin soul breaks on "Rules" (that touch on drum'n'bass rhythms) find Omar at his most celebratory; it's a gorgeous example of jazz crossover. "In Another Time" is another Latin groover with organist Ed Bentley guesting to complement Omar's uplifting exhortation for listeners to embrace gratitude. It's followed by "The Morning After the Night Before," a striking ballad with electric guitarist Chris Cobbson (doing his best Jim Hall) sitting in for Mitchell. Pine's fills and soloing sound more than a little like Ben Webster in his phrasing. "A Change Is Sure to Come" is the only place here where Pine leaves the tenor on its stand in favor of swirling, multi-tracked alto and bass flutes as Mitchell uses the piano's middle register to explore alternate harmonic dimensions, while the rhythm section swings behind him. Black Notes from the Deep is a jazz album deeply engaged with classy, 21st century soul, yet it refuses skittering, schizophrenic jumping around. Instead it flows seamlessly; it's smartly, even ingeniously arranged and expertly played and produced. In its sheer quality, it underscores Pine's continuing role as the true boss of British jazz. ~ Thom Jurek
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