Courtney Pine L'Astral, Montreal QC, June 30
Published Jul 02, 2013The young lion of British jazz in the '80s is playing as well as ever: this is a seriously backhanded compliment. He is an absolute whiz on soprano sax and uses circular breathing techniques to extreme effect. That's the deal with him: extreme. He came up playing as much reggae as jazz, so his current band reflects both. A guitarist, steel pan, drums and acoustic bass make up the band, but it's all about Pine. Those who can't stand soprano should stop reading now.
He bounded on stage to a riff based on the Skatalites "Eastern Standard Time" and started soloing without pause. He went ham on the Stetson-sonics, soprano style, which the audience in the room went crazy for. It should be noted that the Montreal Jazz Festival will always have a place for overwhelming technical wizardry without a lick of restraint. I have a good deal of respect for sweet-toned, mellifluous Caribbean and African jazz styles, but after about the sixth continuous minute of 32nd-note bombardment, it became clear that this evening wasn't going to be big on introspection.
For a while, it was entertainingly overt, but when the audience responded with glee to a "Shave and a Haircut" riff, you know Pine would try to get away with anything. Again, nothing wrong with being a showman, but "Shave and a Haircut" came up four times before I refused to count anymore. Even that was tolerable though.
Most distressing was how he would roll up on his sidemen and engage them in a cutting contest — the two would trade off eight-bar solos to see who was most impressive. It felt like the Harlem Globetrotters playing the Washington Generals: the band members' faces showed expressions akin "yes, boss, you da man" as Pine embarrassed each one. Then Pine brought out an instrument that's been begging for a revival, the Electronic Wind Instrument aka the EWI. It produced some horrible digi-flute sounds that nevertheless may have some kind of role to play in contemporary synth-popscapes, but made this show even more cringe-worthy. After a few more shaves, haircuts and "Mary Had a Little Lamb" variations, the novelty bubble burst for me and I had to get the hell out of there. As Homer Simpson once said: "hello? TASTE??"