Monday, February 21, 2011

The Return Of Denys Baptiste

Denys Baptiste (sax; b. 1969)
Identity By Subtraction (Dune Records)

I have been waiting for this record for a long while. It's been seven years since his third album, the epic Let Freedom Ring (Dune Records), based around the legendary speech by Martin Luther King Jr. But it doesn't matter, Denys Baptiste is back with Identity By Subtraction (Dune Records). A more intimate affair than it's predecessor, Identity By Subtraction explores just that--looking back at his history, heritage and the search for self understanding.

The intimacy of Identity By Subtraction is conveyed in Baptiste's choice of just a quartet setting unlike his previous albums which have included a large ensemble of players and vocalists. Baptiste has kept is core players with him--the increasingly important Andrew McCormack (piano), Rod Youngs (drums) and Greg Crosby (bass). On "Special Times" the quartet creates a beautiful sculpture of melodies that left me weeping and looking introspectively at my own life. "Special Times" was dedicated to his family, for which the album is essentially about. Baptiste's family has shaped his career and personal outlook in recent years and this album maybe his strongest as a result of that experience.

While Baptiste has stated Courtney Pine as one influence, I have always seen elements of Sonny Rollins throughout his music over the years. That thought showed up for me again as I listened "Dance Of The Maquiritari" which relates to his Caribbean heritage (his parents are from St. Lucia). It's a wonderfully upbeat number with island vibes moving throughout. One of the standouts for me is "Song Of You", an midtempo ballad which demonstrates Baptiste at his best on sax. His playing is bold and crisp with a sense of colour, shape and romanticism. His interplay with McCormack is superb.

Identity By Subtraction keeps a compassionate and interpersonal outlook to its proceedings but the title track and "Evolution From Revolution" both present the quartet in more uptempo scenarios. Each having some wonderful and dominant solo statements by Youngs (on Evolution...) and McCormack (on Identity...). It seems Baptiste purpose throughout Identity By Subtraction is to focus the listener on the performances and emotions of the song and not big large themes. These are quality performances from a group that has played with each other for years.

I have been listening to Identity By Subtraction at least once every other day since it came out last December only for digital (the actually CD is released next week). It's great to have Baptiste back on the scene. Identity By Subtraction is a deep and personal look inside the history of a man and a musician. But is also a statement that Baptiste is becoming one of the most important players on British jazz scene (just like Courtney Pine). No matter how long between records, it was always going to be worth the wait. Highly Recommended.

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