Denys Baptiste: Jazz Missionary, Part 2-2

Paul Olson By

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AAJ: On the CD, the group sounds very well-rehearsed. Was it?

DB: We had rehearsed before, but only the ensemble parts, the written parts. Because of the way it all fits together, I wasn't writing parts in blocks; quite often there are melodies interweaving with other melodies. [We rehearsed] so that [the musicians] could understand where things come from and how the different things mixed together and where different instruments come in and come out: how they relate to one another. We needed to rehearse that. I think we did about three or four [rehearsals] just to get those things. It was really so when we went into the studio, with the red light on, it was going to be the take. You know, we're doing that take and that's it; there was no editing. It was a huge room and there was no way to hide any mistakes or any rough things in there—it was just going and playing it live. Being a small record company as well, you know, [laughing] cost is always an issue!

AAJ: Very much so. So there are no overdubs on the CD at all?

DB: No, because as I said, it was all done in the same room. There was no escape.

AAJ: Oh, yeah, everything leaks.

DB: Yeah. All that was separating everybody was just little walls so they wouldn't spill too much, but there was no real separation at all. So if there was any mistake [laughing] it was right back to the beginning again!

AAJ: Did you write the parts with specific musicians in mind?

DB: Yes, I did. I always tend to write in that way. I'd already had at least a core of the musicians that I wanted to be in the group in mind already. The violinist, Omar Puente, I'd already had in mind; I'd seen him playing with a colleague of mine. [Puente's] colleague, Jenny Adejeyan, the cellist—I'd played with her about five years before before with another group. And all the musicians—I'd go to gigs, and I'd check people out and I'd say, "oh, I'd really love to have that sound in what I do. And then I'd try to think: what would they enjoy playing, what would really bring out, really, what they can do. Because that's kind of important to me; that's why I didn't do loads of solos on the album.

AAJ: Well, you sure gave Omar Puente a chance to show what he can do; his solo is extraordinary.

DB: Yes, he is quite an amazing musician. I'm very lucky to have him in the group! [laughing] But he loves doing it and he finds it challenging to be part of the group. He's one of my most loyal members of the group; he really, really pulls his weight and helps to get the music together. He's great.

AAJ: When I reviewed the CD, space considerations prevented me from doing what I was tempted to do, which was to mention and praise every musician on the album. So I ended up singling out drummer Rob Youngs, percussionist Satin Singh and bassist Gary Crosby because, well, they're the rhythm section and they made all the different parts really swing. And in so many different time signatures.

DB: It's kind of interesting, because you're sort of intuitively understanding the way that I write. I tend to write from the bottom up, from the rhythm section. In [Let Freedom Ring!'s] second part, "With This Faith, the bass is basically playing a phonetic transcription of part of [Dr. King's] speech, so it's really important for me—and if the bottom end of the group isn't working then the top end [laughing] certainly won't! And those guys, they really work very well together. Gary and Rod work a lot together; they're very much a rhythm section and a unit in themselves. And [pianist] Andrew [McCormack] has worked with them—and especially with myself and Gary—for quite a long period of time. I hadn't actually worked with Satin before but I'd seen him playing a few times and realized that he kind of had that thing that I wanted in the group. He's very intuitive as a percussionist; sometimes [with a group] it can be too much having too many different sounds and then a percussionist that just sort of makes all this noise [laughing].

AAJ: I'm often prejudiced against jazz groups with a second percussionist; sometimes it's great but sometimes it gets in the way of the drummer swinging.

DB: Well, I think there were points [on the CD] where Satin doesn't play, where he's not involved. I think in "Let Freedom Ring! he's not involved. But that part, incidentally, is based on that Max Roach interpretation of the King speech. Have you heard that? With the drum solo and Martin Luther King? I can't remember what the recording was called but I heard it a few years ago. It's basically Dr King's live ["I Have a Dream ] speech and Max Roach reacting to it on drums.

AAJ: Sort of a studio duet.

DB: Yeah. It's fantastic, it really is. So ["Let Freedom Ring! ] is kind of the representative of that. Rod [Youngs] just does it beautifully; we work really well together. I love the way that he swings. I mean, he's from D.C.—he's from your side of town. How could he not?—but he's a fantastic musician. And yes, the rhythm section is a very, very important part; if I hadn't gotten the right people to do that, then the rest of it just isn't going to work. So well done for noticing them.


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