A bold, ambitious work from the young tenor player, fusing political consciousness...
Alan Braidwood 2003
For this (only his third) CD, the young British and Mobo award winning tenor saxophonist Denys Baptiste has undertaken a hugely ambitious project, where he both writes for a large ensemble and incorporates spoken word into his music for the first time. Let Freedom Ring! is based around the rhythmic patterns of Dr Martin Luther King's 'I Have a Dream' speech and the poetry of author and social commentator Ben Okri. It's a work that continues the same traditions of informing and educating that Charles Mingus and Max Roach pioneered in the radical sixties.
The suite is divided into four parts with Latin, gospel, blues, funk and free jazz forming the basis of alternate numbers. Okri's poetry forms solos along with violin, piano, saxophone, trumpet and guitar. Driving ensemble motifs punctuate throughout.
The set starts with "I have a dream", a gentle and moving lamentation that changes with the introduction of a subtle Afro Cuban rhythm. Omar Puente's wild, dissonant violin playing is the stand out solo. This highly positive mood sets the tone for the rest of the suite; "With this faith" is the purest Mingus. Okri's lines ("embrace our handicaps and use them") ring out over some soul-inspiring, preaching Gospel and blues.
"Let freedom ring" feels like a suite in itself, with what sounds like an atonal accelerating orchestra resolving in a post-bop sax solo which in turn becomes an angular passage ending in a wall of free jazz howls and hollers that provokes thoughts of Archie Shepp. The set ends appropriately with the upbeat "Free at last" where the rhythmic patterns of the title are easily identified in the chanted motif.
As a whole the suite rarely loses pace, only really failing with the long, dragging funk passage on "With this faith". It is also adventurous in its use of musicians like Puente, whose playing recalls both Billy Bang and Alfredo De La Fe.
This is not an album of great solos, but of bold arrangements and complex composition that reflect jazz history. Its message is just as political as musical. As such, the Arts Council of England is supporting it with a tour and school workshops. With intentions like this the career of Mr Baptiste can only continue to go forward.