Devotion is Courtney Pine's ninth album and his first to be released on American shores since 1999. Those familiar with Pine's restlessly adventurous, knife-edge walk between the jazz explorations of John Coltrane and Sonny Rollins and his love affair with reggae, soul, funk, world pop and folk musics, and electronica will be delighted with this (though maybe not happy that the remixes on the U.K. edition were left off). He has balanced all of his passions and inquiries on a record that leaves in the edges, but makes the puzzle pieces fit. Pine's connection to nightclub and street music is in his DNA; he has been employing it since his 1986 debut, Journey to the Urge Within. On Devotion, the studio becomes a lab. He's not interested in watering down his obsessions to make them fit; he's seeking to pump everything up and have genres rub up against each other. Pine plays electric piano, Hammond organ, saxophones, EWI, clarinets, and flute, as well as programming bass and loops. Also starring are guitarist Cameron Pierre, bassist Peter Martin, drummer Robert Fordjour, and various percussionists, including Thomas Dyani.
From the jump, Pine goes into interstellar overgroove. After a kung fu movie intro wedded to sound effects, he kicks it with "Sister Soul," a blistering funky soul-jazz track that pushes all the right buttons with its low-down swagger and Pierre's eight-string glissando guitars. The title track is uptempo rocker's reggae (which bleeds well into the ska zone), on which Pine plays baritone saxophones and bass clarinet. He makes the dread beat dance with jazz dissonance and harmonics; the groove is deep, dirty, and lusty. In his solo, Pine honks like a bar walker and steams like Archie Shepp circa 1969, but it's all him. Other notables include the post-bop jazz meets Afro-funk of "Osibisa," a tribute to the pioneering African band of the same name from the 1970s, and the shimmering East Indian groove of "Translusance," with guest sitarist Sheema Mukherjee from Transglobal Underground and tabla star Yousuf Ali Khan. When Pine and Mukherjee trade fours and play harmonic counterpoint, the effect is dazzling. Other killer cuts include the stomping instrumental Northern soul strut of "U.K." and the snake-hipped, finger-popping, scratchadelic groove jazz of "Everything Is Everything." There are also a couple of fine vocal numbers. First there is a beautiful cover of John Martyn's "Bless the Weather" with David McAlmont of McAlmont & Butler singing; later comes the Will Jennings/Joe Sample nugget "When the World Turns Blue," with Carleen Anderson of the Young Disciples. Ultimately, Devotion is the work of a mature and restless jazz master who understands how to get exactly what he wants out of a record, and is not interested in jazz as a separate entity or a rarefied, elitist tradition, but as a living, breathing, evolving argument that embraces difference as part of its mission to look deeply and interpret musical forms through its own kaleidoscopic lens.