It’s not often that the bass clarinet does more in jazz than gracefully underscore a big band horn section of clarinets and flutes, but - not unexpectedly - saxist Courtney Pine brings this under-used instrument to the fore on Spirituality.
There’s a dexterity and complexity in Courtney Pine’s album that places the bass clarinet alongside the piano of Zoe Rahman and a string quartet in a quasi-classical setting. Yet this is a collection of extraordinary, creative jazz arrangements of beautiful tracks that together encapsulate and transmit Pine’s desire to reflects humanity’s experiences of recent years.
From the opening track - Black Water - the combination of Rahman’s piano and the entire range of Pine’s bass clarinet is simply beautiful. Pine effortlessly runs up and down the instrument from the sonorous lowest notes up to the heights of the horn.
The story behind the Charlie Chaplin composition Smile is almost as interesting as the lyrics (not heard here, but expressed perfectly in the Nat King Cole original). The song was taken from Chaplin’s original score for his 1936 film Modern Times and the melody is brought to a 21st century post-pandemic modern life by Pine’s bass clarinet and his string quartet.
Another classic modernised here by the Pine/Rahman pairing is Michel Legrand’s Windmills of My Mind. The flow of the bass clarinet’s melodic line is echoed and developed on the piano in a beguilingly simple version of another rarely-heard standard.
From the Welsh hymn Ayr Hod Y Nos (All Through the Night) through to the stunningly lyrical Girl Talk and all the tracks in between, Pine uses the sweetness and the deep sonority of the bass clarinet. The final track - Your Majesty - is one of the most beautiful and glorious compositions to be added to the repertoire for the instrument.