After almost two decades experience at the forefront of the British and European Jazz scene, Denys Baptiste still brims with the confidence of a youthful spirit. With a stellar band that fires on all cylinders and a new home at Edition Records, Denys’ career continues to grow and blossom. This is an album by an artist in total control of his vision, a bandleader flexing his muscles and a musician in his instrumental prime. The Late Trane will fulfil his potential at an international level and bring a new audience to one of the finest instrumentalists and composers on the UK scene - something of a sleeping giant in the last 3 decades, but a giant that is about to wake!
The later works of John Coltrane, preserved in both studio and enigmatic live recordings were some of the most emotional and spiritually charged music of the 20th Century. Written at a time of tumultuous change in America and the world: the civil rights and anti racism movement, the Vietnam war, the peace movement and space exploration inspired a great flow of creativity of which Coltrane was at the heart. As Denys explains: ‘John Coltrane continues to be one of my most important influences and his late period has always intrigued me and has stimulated my work over many years. To play this music, with these incredible musicians alongside me is hugely inspiring’.
Denys has brought together an extraordinary band that illustrates the parallel journey musicians from London’s multi-cultural music scene have made in discovering and finally making their own the mythic, cultural work of the master sax player. From Jazz Warrior originals Steve Williamson and Gary Crosby, through Denys himself to a new generation typified by Nikki Yeoh, the band is a tribute to the inspiration gained from Coltrane’s work. Producer Jason Yarde adds another layer of deep knowledge and experience as a free jazz saxophonist who has himself explored the outer spaceways.
With The Late Trane, Denys Baptiste has made a bold statement, a defining marker of his future ambitions and a reverent acknowledgement of this remarkable man and the music that has undoubtedly been a vital influence in his own career. Yet Denys is very much his own man with his own vision, an artist with his own voice and his own sense of destiny. The Late Trane views the work of Coltrane through the prism of this experience, through the global sound of London. It is 50 years since John Coltrane departed from this world and there’s seems no better time to celebrate and pay tribute to one of the great musicians of the 20th Century.
1. Dusk Dawn 05:45
2. Living Space 06:33
3. Ascent 06:16
4. Peace on Earth 05:51
5. Transition 08:40
6. Neptune 03:08
7. Vigil 08:56
8. Astral Trane 04:45
9. After the Rain 07:51
10. Dear Lord 02:55
Produced by Jason Yarde
All music by John Coltrane
DENYS BAPTISTE tenor and soprano saxophones
NIKKI YEOH piano and keyboards
NEIL CHARLES bass
ROD YOUNGS drums
GARY CROSBY bass
STEVE WILLIAMSON tenor saxophone
There must be many a jazz fan - me included - who found their way to Ascension, Kulu Se Mama or Om “too early” in their love affair with the music. Giant Steps - got it, My Favourite Things - wow, Sun Ship - what the? It would take being pointed towards A Love Supreme for sense to be made. Not without reason is Coltrane’s 1965 album considered to be a, even THE, jazz masterpiece - the point at which a brilliant artist began his journey both closer to his God and towards a higher plane which was beyond the realms of most mere musicians.
Even the players who went on that sonic journey with him were at first baffled by the new sounds they were making. In a 1966 interview in Downbeat Coltrane’s long time drummer Elvin Jones was quoted as saying “ At times I couldn't hear what I was doing—matter of fact, I couldn't hear what anybody was doing. All I could hear was a lot of noise.” So it’s unsurprising that subsequent generations of jazz musicians have approached the post 1965 Coltrane with trepidation and awe in equal measure. It takes a special kind of artist to be prepared to explore this holy canon.
Deny Baptiste is such an artist. Denys is a measured and considered musician. This is only his fifth album as a leader in 18 years. Each release carries thought, time and hence meaning. Denys likes to do things when he feels he’s ready.
I can imagine he’s been listening to Coltrane’s late catalogue for decades. I’m sure he’s still trying to understand it. I know he would never presume to emulate it. But what’s evident from the music contained herein is that he “feels” it. He feels it and now feels ready to explore it and to pay tribute to it - and it’s creator - by imbuing it with some of the nuances and personality of his personal journey in jazz.
So this ain’t no JC tribute band. This is the worshipful music of a 20th century american master as celebrated by a 21st Century British artist born of Caribbean parents. Just as ‘Trane drew on the music of the church and the inspiration of his jazz forefathers, so expect to hear hints of the multi cultural flavours of the musical mixing pot so dear to those of us who grew up in the Britain of the last 50 years. Reggae and Funk for sure, but tiny touches of folk too and even a nod at M-BASE, UK style.
But make no mistake this is a jazz album. And this is a spiritual jazz recording. That’s no surprise when you look at the band that Denys has pulled together to play it. A lineup that boasts both Denys’ mentor - the matchless teacher and bass player Gary Crosby and two of the most moving saxophone players the UK has ever produced - Denys himself and the elusive but incomparable Steve Williamson. Together with pianist Nikki Yeoh, drummer Rod Youngs, second bass player Neil Charles and a third monster sax player, Jason Yarde at the production desk, this is a collection of players with a long shared history and a deep spiritual connection. Warriors all!
With Late Trane Denys Baptiste has achieved something special and important. He has opened another rare window onto one of the greatest moments in jazz history. He’s made a beautiful and welcoming record that I’m sure will guide others towards those late 60s Impulse masterworks.
Denys has once again taken his time. But it’s been worth the wait.
Jez Nelson (March 2017)