Courtney Pine – House of Legends ★★★★

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Destin-E World Records 7772 1028867 | !!!! Courtney Pine (ss), Eddie ‘Tan Tan’ Thornton, Mark Crown, Claude Deppa (t), Trevor Edwards, Rico Rodriguez (tb), Michael Bammi Rose (), Mario Canonge, Mervyn Africa (p), Cameron Pierre, Dominic Grant, Lucky Ranku (g), Miles Danso (b), Rod Youngs (d), Robert Fordjour (dube), Annise Hadid (pan), Ellen Blair (v), Amanda Drummond, Natalie Taylor (vla), and Jenny Adejayan (clo). Rec. May-June 2012

Unquestionably one of the most joyous albums Pine has ever made, this is music to be listened to on several levels. On the surface, it’s just brilliantly effective dance music, and it is to be hoped that when the band tours in the spring, they’ll clear the chairs and leave space for everyone to take to the floor. But underneath the carefree surface is both a living and a thoughtful exploration of the Caribbean heritage, with nods to South Africa, and towards London. One track above all typifies the record, and that is ‘Liamuiga: Cook Up’. The title is both the Kalinago Carib Indian word for ‘fertile land’ and an indication of the heady mixture of sources (or musical sauces) that have gone into the piece. The title was given to the tune as the result of a competition organised for listeners to Winn FM 96.9 on St Kitts and Nevis.

The most effective element of the record is the accomplished rhythm playing that absorbs a series of different rhythms and pulses from the islands, but never loses touch with a jazz sensibility. This gives Courtney the ideal backdrop for his personal exploration of the possibilities of the soprano saxophone, wistful and melodic on the Zouk Love pieces and aggressively involved on ‘The Tale of Stephen Lawrence’. Additionally, a real delight for fans of ska or soca is the way that guests such as Rico Rodriguez or Bammi Rose have been drawn into the album’s heady mix. Rico’s laidback behind-the-beat phrasing adds swagger and style to ‘Kingstonian Swing’ while Rose’s gently passionate flute brings sophistication and intricacy to ‘Song of the Maroons’. Plenty of review records command fine words and then get consigned to the shelves never to be played again. I can guarantee this one will be providing the backdrop to energetic extrovert dancing for years to come.

 – Alyn Shipton