Thursday, July 27, 2017

Denys Baptiste - The Late Trane (Edition Records, 2017)

The music that the great saxophonist John Coltrane recorded near the end of his life is a fertile field for adventurous musicians to explore. On this album, the band consisting of Denys Baptiste on tenor and soprano saxophones, Nikki Yeoh on piano and keyboards, Neil Charles on bass and Ron Youngs on drums along with special guests Gary Crosby on bass and Steve Williamson on tenor saxophone re-imagine and rework ten compositions from the master's 1963 – 1967 period. "Dusk Dawn" opens the album with deep saxophone and sympathetic rhythm accompaniment developing the music toward an open and ripe sounding ballad resolution. The piano, bass and drums team simmer at a low volume, gaining power gracefully as Baptiste's saxophone returns to lead the group to the conclusion. There is spare percussion along with quiet and reverent saxophone laying the foundation on "Living Space" and Yeoh gently builds the structure with droplets of piano and the leader adds stoic tenor saxophone. The volume gradually rises with the open ended improvisation making room for an extra horn. There is a feature for Charles on bass to open "Ascent," which is framed by echoing saxophone, sparse keyboards and percussion developing an understated sound that reflects and reverberates. They build a lightly funky tone, with the saxophone growing more intense and developing a collective improvisation climaxing with impassioned overblowing. Subtle bass with piano and hushed cymbals open "Transition" allowing the saxophone to glide in with an unhurried manner. The music is soft and spare, making for an interesting arrangement considering the volatility of the original performance. "Neptune" uses a choppy melodic theme and breathy saxophone to set up the band's performance. Deep saxophones soar over strong piano, bass and drums moving the music further afield allowing the band to open up and really explore the potential energy within. Heavy drums crash, heralding the introduction of "Astral Trane," as thick bass and saxophones build in making for a brief but powerful improvisation that is deep with conviction. The music on this album isn't quite as raw as the source material and the band works hard to tease out melodic fragments that they can extrapolate upon. They play the beautiful Coltrane hymn "After the Rain" with subtle grace, as keyboards, resonant bass and soft and accessible saxophone ply the familiar melody. After a controlled and thoughtful saxophone solo, the band fills out with a well coordinated conclusion. This was a well done and thought provoking album. Many musicians shy away from Coltrane's more controversial late period works, but albums like this show a way forward, making the music more accessible without removing any of the passion that makes it so powerful. The Late Trane -

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