Picks and Pans Review: The New York Sessions
Brace yourselves, jazz fans: There's a new British invasion.
Pine, a 26-year-old saxophonist, is the front-line spear carrier for the latest British assault. A Londoner of Jamaican descent, Pine played with local reggae and ska bands before discovering the glorious music of Sonny Rollins and John Coltrane. Pine's 1988 debut, Journey to the Urge Within, the largest-selling British jazz album ever, gained him a foothold in America and helped lead to stateside recording contracts for other talented young Brits such as saxophonist Steve Williamson and singer Cleveland Watkiss. For The Vision's Tale (Antilles), Pine's third release, the Marsalis clan showed up with the welcome wagon. The album was produced by 24-year-old Delfeayo Marsalis and features Papa Ellis on piano, Wynton's former sideman Jeff "Tain" Watts on drums and Branford's cohort Delbert Felix on bass.
Pine has killer chops. Paying homage to Coltrane in a reprise of the classic "Giant Steps," he revels in the cascading chord changes and torrential arpeggio runs. Unlike Coltrane, however, he fails to create a building sense of urgency in the piece. Pine's shortcomings are even more evident on such ballads as "In a Mellow Tone" and "Skylark." His tone is slack, and he seems at a loss to maintain much intensity when his foot is off the gas pedal. Much of the blame must go to the producer and sidemen. Although the Marsalis crew brings an air of respectability to the proceedings, the musical interplay is dour and lacking in rhythmic fire.
By contrast, The New York Sessions, a long-out-of-print album recently released in the Columbia Jazz Masterpiece series, is full of infectious energy. In 1961 Hayes, another British saxophonist, crossed the Atlantic to record with trumpeter Terry. The musicians were relaxed and upbeat, and Hayes lighted up the occasion with his hard-blowing style and virtuoso mastery of the bebop idiom. A heart condition later sidelined Hayes and eventually killed him in 1973, at age 38. But his joyful exuberance throughout The New York Sessions gives it a timeless quality increasingly rare in jazz recordings.