Courtney Pine: British Jazz Star Shows His ’Devotion’ to Electro-Voice Mics
Courtney has chosen for his soprano and tenor saxophones the new RE920TX condenser, just launched by EV and designed especially for horns. According to him and his sound engineer Steve Reece, the mic not only sounds great but is giving him unprecedented freedom on stage.
Courtney and his five-piece band are currently touring to promote the new Devotion album, but this world tour has been going since 1981, according to Courtney, who is as much road warrior as jazz warrior. At the suggestion of Steve Reece, Courtney has taken on an exclusively EV inventory of seven different microphone models to service his whole band.
“Jazz musicians are even more critical than classical musicians about which microphones we use,“ explains Courtney Pine. “We may be capturing a live moment but we’ve got ears like bats!“ Steve Reece agrees, admitting that he had one or two nervous moments when he first put a whole new set of mics on stage. “It was a big risk but they really are liking the results.“
Most critical of all is the new RE920TX condenser mic, just released by Electro-Voice, and used by Courtney in conjunction with EV’s RE-1 wireless microphone system. Somewhat unconventionally, his RE1 transmitter beltpack is strapped onto the bell of the saxophone, a technique that surprises even other sax players but which gives Courtney complete physical freedom coupled with optimum sound quality.
“Now I’m like a conductor with a baton, this arrangement has enhanced my live performance 100%. I play two or three instruments, so I tie a beltpack round each instrument; our set is a constant flow so it’s important that the mic is attached, I can just put down one instrument and pick up another. I don’t have to stand in front of a mic, so I can go to different places when I feel like it. It justifies what I’m trying to do - the horns are black, I’m wearing black, and I have the idea that all of the physical stuff will disappear and all that will remain is the notes, the music.“
Courtney Pine first burst onto the British jazz scene in the 1980s; his debut was the first serious jazz album ever to make the Top 40, and his second album was to crack the American charts. Once hailed as the new Coltrane, he has confounded the purists by inviting world music, pop, reggae, electronica, funk, and soul to sit in with the jazz tradition, becoming the first jazz musician to include a DJ in his band, and using cutting-edge production techniques on his recordings. Five years ago, he was given an O.B.E. by the Queen for his services to jazz music.
His first introduction to Electro-Voice products was by way of the RE20, which was originally introduced as a broadcast mic but quickly became a favorite with horn players. “That’s the mic we all wanted to buy when I was in my 20s,“ he recalls. Steve Reece agrees, “I’m an old-school engineer, and the RE20 has been an industry standard, and my own standard, for years, it’s a classic get-me-out-of-this-situation microphone and it can take a great deal of SPL.“
The RE20’s high SPL handling is matched by the new RE920TX, says Courtney, whose first trials of the new mic were not in the controlled environment of a studio, but on the battlefield of an actual gig. “I like to play loud, and this mic took it all in. But I found I could hear more of the sax, not just volume but the whole sound. I’m using in-ear monitoring, so if something’s not right, my brain will start to rattle. That doesn’t happen with this RE920TX, everything is so even, I felt it took a lot of pressure off me.“
The RE920TX is also praised for its frequency range, equally smooth throughout the spectrum from bass notes to falsetto. “Lots of people don’t realise but we resonate when we play. The vibrato is in the instrument, and if the stand or clip is affected, this will go through to the engineer.“
Attaching the mic and beltpack transmitter to the bell of his sax, or just above it when using the soprano sax, captures the instrument’s sound quality at its best and also frees up the player. “Because the wire is out of the way, Courtney isn’t restricted with his hands or his waist,“ explains Steve Reece, “and he can change between his soprano and tenor sax, move across the stage or out into the audience.“ Although he has complete freedom of movement, there is a question of added weight, but Courtney calmly reports that “although the RE920TX is much lighter than the RE20, my thumb is still getting bigger!“
With his star performer clearly happy with his new EV microphone, Steve Reece runs through the rest of his mic plot.
• On drums, the large-diaphragm N/D868 specially designed for kick drums, positioned inside the bass drum: Cobalt 11 on the two snares, the N/D468 supercardioid for toms, and RE200 condenser mics on hi-hat and cymbals.
• For percussion, a pair of 468s on congas and an RE200 on his “toys’.
• Piano has two RE200 condensers
• RE20 dynamic cardioid on double bass
• The versatile Cobalt 11 condenser on the guitar amp
• N/D967 vocal microphones, Courtney on the RE-1 Series wireless microphone system, guitar and bass on the MAC-G2 guitar RE1 wireless pack
“What stands out about EV microphones is their smoothness,“ says Reece. “My musicians are all of a very high standard, and they need mics that are true to what they are doing. Also it’s great that EV has such a wide range, so we can find something for every different scenario. It’s early days, we’ve only done two shows with the complete stageful of mics so I’m still testing them, but so far, I’m so pleased, and I can tell you that, on the sax, the RE920TX is just absolutely brilliant.“