The Courtney Pine, Zoe Rahman combination goes back to 2015 with their first release Song. Soon after lockdowns a year ago, they were out and about and we caught them at St. George’s and were enchanted. A new project that had its gestation in ‘that’ period was an irresistible lure for us. Rahman’s blend of prodigious technique in service of a huge musical imagination and magical instincts as an improviser are a brilliant foil for the legendary energy, soulfulness and equally prodigious technique of Pine.
As soon as Pine picked up the bass clarinet, let fly with a few exploratory phrases and the duo slid into Thad Jones’ A Child Is Born the magic descended. He let fly with a swooping cascade of lines and plaintive, bending extended notes. Bass Clarinet is a famously unruly instrument, in Pine’s hands however it sang and cried with a gorgeous warm tone. They followed up with Windmills of my Mind this time Pine offered a fragment of an idea and Rahman echoed it, shaded and coloured it with ripples and flurries across the piano, then proceeded to expand and diverge taking unexpected swerves and building to a controlled ferment. It was exhilarating and we were to get more of that throughout the evening.
The Spirituality tour of which this was the last gig, also a featured a string quartet and they were gradually introduced. Midori Jeager joined first and prowled and skittered around a sotto voce fat groove from Pine and Rahman’s left hand. Then the violins of Ellen Blair and Sarah Telman and the viola of Julia Dos Reis came on and Pine’s lush, romantic arrangements embellished standards like What’ll I Do and Blue Moon. A collective, textural shimmer from the quartet and Rahman with hands on the strings in the piano provided a scene setter for the hymn All Through The Night. A discursive flight of fancy as a candenza to the gospelly original Black Water saw Pine one moment squawking and hooting, then squeezing out a tender sketch of Edelwiess before diving back into swirling runs.
The addition of the string quartet added extra colours to the duo’s pallette with a repertoire that was very personal to Pine with a nostalgic hue. The playing invested the music with and engaging passion and we went into the cold December night with a warm glow.