Even though Courtney Pine plays saxophone instead of trumpet, his first recordings showcased him as England's answer to Wynton Marsalis: a young, gifted black jazzman committed to the music's tradition and willing to convince others of the respect it deserved. This proved especially novel in 1980s Britain, where jazz remained a basically white domain and young black musicians tended to dive right into ska, reggae, and funk. But Pine showed from the start that he had absorbed John Coltrane's lessons. Especially comfortable on the mid-tempo lopes that Coltrane popularized, Pine unfurls a robust tone on both tenor and soprano saxes, and more than almost all his contemporaries, he seeks and sometimes finds a spiritual focus of concentration in his solos. Pine has a solid history of experimentation, which includes the Jazz Warriors (his African-inspired big band of years past) and a reggae project that paid homage to his Jamaican heritage. But Pine may have struck gold with Modern Day Jazz Stories (Antilles), on which he infuses his solid jazz foundation with the spirit of hip-hop: John Coltrane meets LL Cool J. In contrast to most of the heralded "bebop to hip-hop" junk finding its way into print, Stories poses a literate new-beat alternative to straight-ahead jazz. Among other things, Pine realizes that jazz needs to flow organically, unlike the rigid beat of hip-hop; his album involved no overdubbing, giving the rhythms a chance to breathe with one another. In Stories Pine includes rap beats, record scratches, and rhythmically recurring samples, but mixes them behind his darkly vibrant tenor solos. In so doing he has successfully recast his jazz message for the 90s without drowning it out altogether. Pine will open the show for the modern-jazz diva Cassandra Wilson, who, true to her name, seems to have forecast the future of vocal music with her startling synthesis of modern jazz, classic blues, and a variety of pop rhythms set in a folky string-band setting. Friday, 7:30 PM, Park West, 322 W. Armitage; 929-5959 or 559-1212. NEIL TESSER
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Eric Johnson.