Courtney Pine CBE + Omar Puente @Town Hall, Birmingham, 3rd March 2010

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Jazz is not my usual cup of tea. I’m more of a rock and metal fan, but having been introduced to Courtney Pine in the mid-90s, it would have been rude not to see him in the amazing setting of Birmingham Town Hall.

First up tonight is violinist Omar Puente. Hailing from Cuba, but now living in Bradford, Omar has been playing violin since he was a child, and it shows! His skill with a violin is amazing to watch and listen to, and tonight he plays a mainly latin jazz style set, with some tracks coming from last year’s album “From There to Here”, which was produced by headliner Courtney Pine and released on Pine’s new label, Destin-E World Records.

Puente is backed by Mercury-nominated pianist Zoe Rahman, bassist Darren Taylor, drummer Robert Fordjour and Oscar Martinez on the congas, who are all allowed time in the spotlight with their own solo spots.

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Puente’s set starts with two tracks from “From There To Here” – “My Mrs.”, a track named after the first electric violin that his wife gave to him, and “Somebody Backstage”, dedicated to his wife. I really enjoyed the fact that during some tracks, he’s quite happy to leave tradition behind and use electronic effects. Wah-wah and octave changers give his violin a sound that I’d never heard before, and the use of delay allows him to layer strains of violin on top of each other for a fuller sound.

After a short change-over, the lights dim, and Pine’s backing band take the stage, and they look very familiar – everyone who was on stage for Puente’s set, including Puente himself, are back, with the exception of Martinez, who has been replaced by Cameron Pierre on guitar. Pine appears on stage, dressed in black, and is straight away in showman mode – using circular breathing to play continuously for at least three minutes, and for the majority of that time playing one handed, with his fist raised in the air!

Pine, from London, is here tonight in support of his most recent album, last year’s “Transition in Tradition”, which is his homage to New Orleans’ Sidney Bechet, who was one of the first important soloist in jazz. The setlist follows the album track listing closely, but without the 80 minute constraint of the CD, the tracks are hugely elongated, allowing Pine and his band to travel through different styles of jazz and also giving the band their own spots to flourish.

After opener “Haiti”, which was less jazz and more reggae, the set moves through the different types of jazz that are featured on “Transition In Tradition” – ragtime from New Orleans, bebop from South Africa and danzón from Cuba.

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“Le Matin Est Noir” sees Pine, playing bass clarinet, battle with Pierre on guitar, leaving Pierre to play a beautiful Spanish-esque section, while “The Tale Of Joe Harriott”, a song inspired by one of the worldwide pioneers of free jazz, sees Pine pick up the alto flute. This was a massive surprise to me, as I had always thought that Pine played just reed instruments, but his expertise on the flute showed that he had obviously been playing it for a while.

The night concludes with the band paying homage to Michael Jackson and playing a beautiful rendition of “Heal The World”, before their last track, where Pine somehow makes the whole jazz-loving audience stand up, clap and dance in celebration of a great night of UK jazz, played by a great group of people, who have their final solo spots, and leave the stage one by one.

Review – Tony Hackett
Photos – John Mason

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