Category Archives: Denys Baptiste

Looking ahead: A Concert for Alice and John Coltrane

This year marks 50 years since the passing of the great John Coltrane (and 10 years since that of his wife Alice Coltrane). On 18 November, a special commemorative concert is to be held at The Barbican in London.

It features a rare London appearance by Pharoah Sanders (hopefully accompanied by pianist William Henderson) with Denys Baptiste and Alina Bzhezhinska also performing on the bill.

The concert publicity says it will be:-

A three-part journey through the cosmos, celebrating the profound musical and spiritual legacy of two of the most influential figures in Western musical history: Alice and John Coltrane.

When I checked the Barbican Box Office on 25 August 2017, the concert had sold out.

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downwithit.info: Jazz Gigs of The Year 2014

One of my New Year resolutions at the start of 2014 was to get myself out rather more to catch live Jazz performances. As the year ends it is time to take stock of what I saw and where I went.

A deep benchmark was engraved in February when legendary funk masters, Pee Wee Ellis and Fred Wesley played at Ronnie Scott’s. Their performance was commented on here and I rated them with an 8/10. I was expecting a deep disappointment when they introduced a female vocalist- so many promise much, but deliver nothing. In this case my lack of faith was exposed and confounded. Robin McKelle was superb and is a real talent to catch (if she ever plays any where else other than France).

2014 was the year when I made my first visit to East Side Jazz Club in Leytonstone. Denys Baptiste featured one May evening and I was there to enjoy the first of six visits this summer.

I was assured that I would enjoy Gilad Atzmon and they were right. His powerful and intense soloing merited my second 8/10 rating of 2014. There were times when I that he was going to blow his alto sax apart, such is the forcefulness that he has on tap.

Another saxophonist also merited an 8/10 the ESJC. I’ve always harboured a strong mistrust of sax players who play several instruments from Adolphe Sax’s brood. They are usually adequate on one and dire on the rest. Derek Nash made me review that particular prejudice (Gilad Atzmon is a fine multi-reedsman too). Playing with the Letonstone R & B Allstars in an end of Summer season spectacular, I enjoyed his showmanship and that of the rest of a band which also featured Geoff Gascoyne on bass.

In addition to playing several members of the sax family, Derek Nash also fronts several bands, which he uses to showcase different repertoires. Following up on a gig he publicised on Twitter took me to a bar called The Water Margin at the 02 (Dome) in Greenwich in late July. I suppose all musicians have performed before small audiences, but that night saw Nash and his jazz funk outfit, Protect The Beat open to no more than three friends of the band and five civilians, myself included. After some deliberation amongst the band about whether to play or not, pure professionalism kicked in and the result was a performance which rated a rare 9/10. Nash is a very entertaining frontman and his joy encouraged his band mates to excel. Particular mention should be given to guitarist Dave Ital and drummer Darby Todd, but the whole show saw great musicians triumphing over a sadly meagre audience.

My home town of Macclesfield hosts a summer arts festival, which is growing year on year and it was there that I attended a rendition of Under Milk Wood, which was another memorable evening. On the same weekend I also saw a re-creation of A Love Supreme on London’s Southbank.

Unexpectedly, and for no particular reason, a hectic summer of gig-going gave way to an autumn in which I only got to three live Jazz performances. Dylan Howe merited the second of my two 9/10 ratings this year, while I was disappointed by Abdullah Ibrahim at London Jazz Festival, and Steve Wiiliamson‘s long overdue return to leading a band also gave me the opportunity to visit Pizza Express Jazz Club in Soho for the first of what I hope will be many visits.

All in all I went to 14 jazz gigs, none of which rated lower than 6/10. Out of these, the downwithit gig of the Year 2014 was:-

Derek Nash and Protect The Beat at The Water Margin, for a triumph of brilliant professionalism against the odds.

Well done Derek and here’s to getting out and about again in 2015, with seeing another performance by Pharaoh Sanders as my New Year’s wish. Hope I will have lots to tell you about this time next year!

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Denys Baptiste live at East Side Jazz Club. May 13 2014

Many years ago I used to get myself along, on occasion, to The South Side Soul Club, which was hosted in a room above a busy bar. It wasn’t quite a function at the junction because it was next to Clapham Common tube station, rather than near the railway hub- but it was a damn fine Northern Soul venue. Indeed, I remember seeing a wonderous declaration of urban romance when a young woman wrote ‘I Love You Seth’ (or whatever he was called) in the talcum powder that the ruler of her heart had spread to ease his terpsichorean endeavours.

Glancing at London Jazz Collector’s fantastic blog the other day, I read that one of his correspondents had recommended the East Side Jazz Club. Two clicks on the keyboard later I had discovered that the venue was within easy striking distance of my home and that there was a great bill on the following Tuesday. Renowned tenor saxophonist Denys Baptiste was set to appear, with Gary Crosby on bass. They were to be supported by club stalwart and resident drummer, Clive Fenner and Joe Armon-Jones on piano.

I’m always excited by a visit to a new club (doesn’t happen a great many times these days though), so off I went to Leytonstone searching for the young jazz rebels.

The short drive was rapidly completed and the venue was another great pub function room, which looked as though it had recently been redecorated. The extremely moderate admittance fee was duly surrendered and we were in.

The band were already on the stand and it was an absolute pleasure to hear great musicians who probably had never played together as a group before coming to terms with classic hard bop and ballads (OK, I’m well aware that Baptiste and Crosby have played together for years).

The first half encompassed a great version of God Bless The Child, Denys Baptiste’s sparkling take on Dear John, Freddie Hubbard’s adaptation of John Coltrane’s Giant Steps and a calypso flavoured tune that made me think of a Sonny Rollins.

I wasn’t the only one thinking along those lines because the opener for the second half was the Rollins signature piece, St Thomas, ever a favourite of mine. Denys Baptiste introduced it by saying that it was chosen as a direct result of a conversation he had during the interval.

I remain slightly puzzled by the next tune. It sounded like a speeded up version of Charlie Parker’s amazing Parker’s Mood- but then again, it could have been a Thelonious Monk composition. Whichever, it enabled venue debutant, Joe Armon-Jones to showcase his delightful piano playing talents. By this time the band were really working together, with Denys Baptiste and Gary Crosby showing themselves to be masters of their craft.

The evening closed with an adventurous take on Joe Henderson’s Inner Urge. It was a privilege to see such fine musicians conjuring the music from their collective imaginations. What the audience was watching was the essence of jazz. No four musicians have ever played that combination of tunes exactly the same way before. Nor will anyone ever again. In tangible terms, a fiver was paid but in real terms, what we experienced was priceless.

Special mention must be made of Clive Fenner, the resident drummer. I can’t imagine the levels of experience, skill and confidence his role, as an accompanist to the weekly changing cast of visitors, must require.

I didn’t win the raffle (a quid could deliver the choice between a serviceable bottle of Corbieres or Art Blakey Live at Cafe Bohemia on CD). Nor did I find the elusive young jazz rebels who were either preening themselves for a late Tuesday session in trend-central Hoxton with LJC’s fabled East London Jazz DJ Collective, or watching Leyton Orient win through to a Wembley playoff final down the road. What I did have was a fine time listening to amazing live music.

Whilst I don’t suppose Polar Bear will be appearing there anytime in the near future, I’ll be back there soon.

The East Side Jazz Club has a website which you can visit here.

Latest updates about the club are on Twitter @EastSJC

Denys Baptiste’s website is here

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