Gig review: Denys Baptiste, Edinburgh

Denys Baptiste
Denys Baptiste
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A DECADE ago, saxophonist Denys Baptiste marked the 40th anniversary of Martin Luther King’s “I Have A Dream” speech with the impressive Let Freedom Ring! For the 50th anniversary of that epochal address, he has not only revived it, but added a second large-scale work, Now Is The Time.

Denys Baptiste - Usher Hall, Edinburgh

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And large-scale it is, with Baptiste’s 14-piece band (itself expanded from the original 11) joined by local choirs in each of the tour venues. In Edinburgh, that meant the Love Music Community Choir, directed by Stephen Deazley.

Unsurprisingly given the limitations of working with a different choir each time, their contribution was restricted to an unaccompanied spiritual to open each of the new work’s four sections, and a cameo in the “Free At Last” finale of Let Freedom Ring!

Just as in the earlier suite, the saxophonist also called on a poet to add both voice and words – Ben Okri a decade ago, and Lemn Sissay for the new work, both represented in performance by audio and, in the latter case, video.

Now Is The Time mirrored its predecessor in its structure and musical language (based in part on Baptiste’s transcription of the rhythms and cadences of King’s speech), as well as its source of inspiration. It sounded as if it needed a few more performances to bed in, and the sound mix was rather problematic at times. Let Freedom Ring! was a stronger performance in all respects.