CD review: Martin Speake

speakeAlways A First Time
(Pumpkin Records 005)

Saxophonist Martin Speake is known for his cool, luminously creative alto technique and this double CD release gives him plenty of room to stretch out and exercise his vision.

This recording was created in the way musicians used to be captured before the advent of studio isolation booths. Martin Speake (alto), Mike Outram (guitar) and Jeff Williams (drums) are recorded playing in the same room together in Fish Market Studios, Willesden, and they achieve a candid serene tone. As Martin Speake says, “I am so happy with the result – including the mistakes. Maybe it is a sign of getting older that I don’t worry so much anymore about trying to make the perfect recording”.

The original compositions are mixed with five non-originals by composers as diverse as Puccini and Einar Swan, and ballads take up the majority of the two discs. Tracks are dedicated to a varied assortment of individuals from Fidel Castro to Lee Konitz and from Speake’s own father to Ornette Coleman. Incidentally there is a direct link with Konitz in the form of Jeff Williams, who has played with him in various bands for decades.

Martin Speake

Martin Speake

There is a lot to take in here, but some of the highlights, on initial listens, include Twister, a bright tune with Mike Outram’s guitar interacting with Speake’s contorted alto before taking off on a busy solo. Ramshackle, a spare and lyrical “cool school” tune, is for Konitz and the searching Tom, dedicated to drummer Tom Skinner, allows Williams space to show off his expeditious technique as he responds to Speake’s lucid blowing.

In Code (for Ornette Coleman), gives full rein to Outram’s stratospheric guitar work with Secret Wood presenting a sinuous, slightly mysterious tone with the guitar intertwining with Speake’s alto before arriving at wailing highs. The gentle Meditation, which appears on both CDs, is a delightfully wistful mood piece and Wait For It, dedicated to the Indian composer and violinist L Subramaniam, shares something of the melodic calm of the raga.

This unconventional trio of improvisers displays patience and vision to create music which is complex, unhurried, diverse and not afraid of silence and space. More listens are required to fully recognise the wide palette of moods to be appreciated on this large-scale canvas.

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