Review - triumph of virtuosity by Courtney Pine

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By Rory Ffoulkes

Courtney Pine, Harrogate Theatre.

To be rather sweeping, the general perception of jazz is of impersonal, stand-offish performers playing purposefully over-challenging, near impenetrable music endured – rather than enjoyed – by beard-stroking pseudo-intellectuals in berets and black roll-neck jumpers alone.

But anyone that has experienced the sheer pleasure of seeing Courtney Pine play live would find themselves disabused of that opinion very quickly.

Sculpted beards, roll-necks, silly headwear and pretentious wallies were all in desperately short supply at Harrogate Theatre last Friday as a jam-packed auditorium was thrilled by Pine’s joyful music and his – and his band’s – stunning virtuosity.

If I tell you that the only disappointing thing about the whole night was that my friend - who had come over from Shipley - and I were among the very few people in the stalls that didn’t get to fist-bump with Pine as he clambered through the delighted crowd whilst still playing his sax during the encore, then you’ll begin to get an idea of quite how fantastic this gig was.

And it’s right to call it a ‘gig’, because though the musicianship was of as high a standard as you are likely to see anywhere on the planet and the soundscape vast in its ambition, there was no sense whatsoever of the formality you’d associate with a concert.

Quite the opposite, in fact, as Pine in particular made humour an absolutely integral part of the show, either joking with an audience he clearly felt very much at home with or else outrageously riffing on musical themes as diverse as Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in D minor, nursery rhymes, Willy Wonka’s Pure Imagination, jazz standards, a quite impromptu tribute to Dave Brubeck and endless more.

The foundation for everything - all the band’s wildly exciting forays beyond the score into the unknown - was Pine’s new album, House of Legends, the celebration of the islands and cultures of the Caribbean that is yet, as he was at pains to point out, firmly rooted in jazz. It is an effervescent, catchy and jubilant composition of jazz tunes: and yet listening to it in album form will never match the experience of hearing and seeing Pine and his preposterously gifted cohorts playing it live.

Pine and Harrogate Theatre had agreed beforehand that he could ask the crowd to get to its feet towards the end of the show – and thankfully so, because some of us were about to abandon all usual English reserve and clamber up the sides of the gilded auditorium like pirates if we were made to sit still to the irresistible music any longer.

The collective getting to our feet and moving to the throbbing rhythms was a wonderful way to celebrate the bond that had formed between audience and musicians, breaking down all barriers; with Pine then sending everyone into raptures by literally embracing his ecstatic, adoring fans.

This really was an unforgettable live music experience and we can only hope that Courtney Pine and the extravaganza he brings with him return to Harrogate very soon so that everyone else can enjoy it too.