Denys Baptiste ascends with The Late Trane at Jazz Cafe


While the venue's refit, which considerably extends the standing area downstairs, is not unwelcome – especially as this gig draws a good crowd – there are changes immediately noticed by musicians who grace the stage. The old Steinway is gone. Its absence is really felt in the second set when Nikki Yeoh's keyboard plays up a bit as the Denys Baptiste Quartet is in full flow. But there is also a sharp whiff of nostalgia for the missing 'STFU' sign, an acronymic rendering of a forthright request for silence, when some punters just would not stop talking for the upset of others.

Anyway, the first set by double bassist Gary Crosby and tenor saxophonist Steve Williamson is a fine opening to proceedings. Two players with a 40-year musical relationship, they display the requisite chemistry to triumph in a high risk setting. Then again their strength of character really shines through. Williamson's stately, solid tone, its lack of vibrato grippingly stark at times, is entrancing, while Crosby's swing and playfulness with time, resulting in more than one catcher's catch can pause, works very well. A brisk walk through Miles' 'Nardis' and a jaunt through Monk's 'Blue Monk', where the bassist holds the tune and the saxophonist twists and tugs at countermelody with gymnastic turns of phrase, are notable. As for the reading of 'Body & Soul' it is a grand moment of drama, as both men wring exactly the right torrent of sentiment, the longing, ecstasy and agony, from a standard that has challenged all comers since Coleman Hawkins claimed ownership in 1938.

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Tenor saxophonist Denys Baptiste, who in the 1990s picked up the baton from Williamson, Crosby and other Jazz Warriors, is enjoying a very good year, having returned to the spotlight with his album The Late Trane, which offers an astute reading of some of the key moments of the closing chapter of John Coltrane's epic journey through sound.

With double bassist Neil Charles, drummer Rod Youngs and the aforesaid keyboardist Yeoh he has an accomplished group at his disposal and it skillfully negotiates the central premise of Baptiste's re-imagining: the beauty of the sometimes simple themes is drawn out and cast against accessible, often danceable rhythmic backdrops that are very British. Young's use of a second snare drum produces all the whiplash thrust of drum & bass throughout the evening while his bouncing kick and hi-hat lines are mildly Latin-calypso, with Charles providing a steady anchor as the energy picks up. From pieces such as 'Ascent' to 'Peace On Earth' the songs are indeed heavenly, and Baptiste's statement of melody and ensuing improvisations, their vaulting course given a misty shadow by his pedal board and octave divider, are highly effective.

The electro-acoustic sound palette is vaguely Joe Henderson circa Power To The People but the cheeky quotes of Miles' 'Jean-Pierre' spread the references further. Having said that, the sparkling streams of single notes produced by Yeoh when she 'unplugs' on 'After The Rain' fully captivate, before Crosby and Williamson return for a rousing finale in which the doubling up of bass and horns brings forth all of the stormy density that marked Coltrane's valedictory musical statements. Baptiste's take is as personal as it is respectful to that spirit.

– Kevin Le Gendre

– Photos by Roger Thomas