Rod Youngs – Power of Three
Jazz Hastings Tuesday 12th Feb 2019
Review by Andrew Myers

Longstanding collaborators Rod Youngs, Denys Baptiste and Larry Bartley may be familiar to some Hastings listeners from their appearance at the Emergence Festival in September 2018, when saxophonist Baptiste led the band (with Nikki Yeoh on keys) in a celebration of the Late Music of John Coltrane. 

Band leader, Rod Youngs
PICTURE: Greg Heath

With drummer Youngs in the driving seat for this sell-out gig at Jazz Hastings, the main point of reference was the music of Elvin Jones. 

Indeed, the first set was taken up with playing the entirety of Jones’s 1968 debut album for Blue Note, Puttin’ it Together – another sax trio, with Joe Farrell and Jimmy Garrison. 

Emulating Farrell, Denys Baptiste opted to play flute and soprano sax in addition to tenor. A superb player with technique and energy to spare, he swept aside the challenges placed upon him by the exposed format of the trio. 

The influence of Coltrane was never too far away, but Baptiste has his own voice. On uptempo numbers such as Joe Lovano’s Eternal Joy and Taurus People, he is easily capable of producing supersonic runs that swoop and soar through the full range of the instrument. 

But he never descended into virtuosity for its own sake. On Gingerbread Boy, I enjoyed the way his solo unfolded organically from a single repeated note. His phrases were angular and chiselled, with storytelling intention behind every note. 

Most importantly, he always left space for the music to breathe. This never turned into ‘star player plus backing.’ This was a meeting of three equals and the real pleasure was in the interplay. 

One bonus of the absence of a chordal instrument was being able to hear unimpeded the phenomenal playing of double bassist Larry Bartley. Not only did he produce a rich woody sound underpinning the trio, but his solos were impressively varied, encompassing snaking walking lines, strummed chords, and dialogues between different registers of the bass. 

And not forgetting the man himself, Rod Youngs, whose genial and generous announcements and relaxed stage presence undoubtedly played a part in creating a wonderful rapport with the attentive audience. 

Larry Bartley and Denys Baptiste
PICTURE: Greg Heath

Youngs’s control of dynamics was second to none. One early highlight was the marvellous transition at the end of Sweet Little Maia, where feathery drumrolls dovetailed seamlessly into the military drumming of the intro to Keiko’s Birthday March. 

On the blues Village Greene, Youngs and Bartley were clearly having a blast as they challenged each other with ever more outrageous rhythmic displacements behind Baptiste’s surging tenor solo.

And another absolute gem was the pairing of Nature Boy and Summertime in the second set, with Youngs’s muffled drum rolls evoking the sound of distant thunder on a hot summer’s day. It was an extraordinarily expansive soundscape, created by just three musicians.

In short, this was a dynamic performance that brought a fresh twist to the 1960s post-bop tradition and another triumph for the Jazz Hastings team. Three cheers to all concerned!

We hope you have enjoyed reading this article. The future of our volunteer led, non-profit publication would be far more secure with the aid of a small donation. It only takes a minute and we would be very grateful.