British reed player Courtney Pine began his professional life in reggae bands, and reggae's "conscious" music tradition has since been a defining feature of his work. Pine plays conscious jazz, in that many of his compositions and recording projects have held a focus on social rights and justice as seen through the prism of the black experience. Sometimes the story has been told with the aid of vocalists; sometimes, as on the exuberant Transition In Tradition, instrumentallythrough track titles, liner notes, sleeve art, and a general referencing of black history.
Transition In Tradition is dedicated the pioneering soprano saxophonist Sidney Bechet, and Pine has woven elements of early New Orleans jazz into the album, along with hard bop, swing and stride piano. The music, characteristically, also includes hefty African and Caribbean retentions. Tempos are mostly up, positivity is a constant.
The album is the follow-up to, and shares many musicians with, the majestic live set Afropeans (Destin-E Records, 2008), recorded at a 2007 performance at London's Barbican concert hall. The gig had been arranged to celebrate the 200th anniversary of Britain's abolition of the slave trade, and also the 20th anniversary of the album Out Of Many, One People (Island, 1987), made by Pine with the Jazz Warriors, the band he'd founded to promote the collective talents of African-Caribbean jazz musicians in the UK.
Transition In Tradition's core band is a sextet comprising Pine, electric violinist Omar Puente, guitarist Cameron Pierre, pianist Alex Wilson, bassist Darren Taylor and drummer Robert Foudjour. They're joined by a rolling cast of guest players on all but two tracks, most frequently trombonist Harry Brown, alto saxophonist Nathaniel Facey, trumpeter Jay Phelps and vibraphonist Stefon Harris. All but Pierre and Harris were heard on Afropeans. Pine's ten original compositions have each clearly been conceived as a showcase for a particular player.
Eschewing the tenor saxophone completely, Pine himself plays bass clarinet on four tracks, soprano saxophone on five, and alto flute on three. His bass clarinetheard before but not with such foregrounded focusis a special delight, played with a deep, woody resonance and entirely avoiding the stridency to which the instrument is prone. In contrast to Afropeans, Pine solos frequently. Brown, on trombone, Harris, on vibraphone and marimba, and Wilson, on acoustic and electric piano, also get generous turns in the spotlight.
Pine collates his source materials and gallery of soloists with care and aforethoughtbut organically, as though this was the most natural thing to do in the world. Which, as presented on Transition In Tradition, it joyously and resoundingly proves to be.
Track Listing: Haiti; New Orleans; Le Matin Est Noire; Toussaint L'Ouverture; The Tale Of Joe Harriott; The Sound Of Jazz?; Creole Swing; Afropean; Au Revoir.
Personnel: Courtney Pine: bass clarinet, soprano saxophone, alto flute; Omar Puente: electric violin; Cameron Pierre: acoustic and electric guitar, mandolin; Alex Wilson: acoustic piano, electric organ, harmonium; Darren Taylor: double bass; Robert Fordjour: drums, percussion; Stefon Harris: vibes, marimba (1, 6, 8, 9); Paul Jayasinha: flugelhorn (10); Jay Phelps: trumpet, flugelhorn (5, 8, 9); Harry Brown: trombone (4, 5, 7, 8, 9); Nathaniel Facey: alto saxophone (5, 8, 9).