PREVIEW/INTERVIEW: Loz Speyer (Inner Space’s Life on the Edge CD launch, Vortex 27 June)

Loz Speyer’s Inner Space at the Vortex

Trumpeter  LOZ SPEYER said he had woken up a bit sleepless after the snap general election,  understandable after several stints out canvassing for Jeremy Corbyn in the week leading up to the vote. Despite the fatigue, there’s a spring in his step  as he talks about journeys, colleagues, influences… and looks forward to his Life on the  Edge CD launch (Leo Records) on 27 June. Interview by Stephen Graham 

John Fordham in The Guardian has described Londoner Loz Speyer as a “well-kept secret.” And yet among close observers of the capital’s jazz scene he is seen as a well-respected stalwart, with records under his own or differing band names going back to the 1990s.

He first got into jazz when he was a pupil at University College School in north London, encouraged by teacher David Lund who enduringly championed a love of the music at the school. A brief period in trad jazz came first followed closely by bebop. Later, free-improv and a serious side interest in Afro-Latin Cuban music, was more the direction that Speyer developed, the latter stemming in part from his having spent periods of time in Cuba. He especially enjoys the folkloric style of that vast musical hinterland, explored early on in jazz by Dizzy Gillespie whom he expresses reverence for, visiting Santiago de Cuba and Havana in particular and playing there with local musicians. His ex-wife, whom he married in 2004, is Cuban and they have a daughter together.

As to his free-jazz and improv base, he finds an affinity with Ornette Coleman’s cornetist Bobby Bradford, in imaginatively reinterpreting the dexterous beauty and bluesy ache of Clifford Brown’s approach, into a free-jazz context, still core and at the heart of Speyer’s style.

In the 1990s he briefly entered into the acid jazz scene of the day, releasing his first record of his own tunes on a 12-inch single with the quintet Little Eye; but the band was more into playing the music of Thelonious Monk, or their own more open-ended compositions, initially without a chordal instrument – which paved the way for the Inner Space sound whose earlier personnel included erstwhile Polar Bear drummer Seb Rochford.

Speyer remains faithful to the same old Vincent Bach “battered patched up trumpet” he has been playing for years. “It’s still sounding great!” As for the flugel he plays a Yamaha, its buttery tone contributing to the tightly knit Inner Space horn sound by adding touches of a more velvety tone and he certainly prefers the acoustic route although he says he likes electronics even if they don’t play a role at all on the new album.

The current version of Inner Space recorded Life on the Edge in December 2015 across London from Speyer’s Hackney base over to the north-west of the metropolis in a Willesden studio. Speyer describes how the band sound evolved in 2010 when tenorist Rachel Musson joined, bringing the front line to three horns with himself alongside reeds master Chris Biscoe (whose own work includes extensive explorations of Mingus and Dolphy). New compositions were asking for a wider harmonic palette and Rachel joining both anchored the ensemble and freed up the improvisation for greater interaction. On the album she plays a significant role in broadening the lively accessible free bop shaped around Speyer’s excellent compositional range.

Opening with a Nelson Mandela-inspired track titled Long Road the album is released on the avant-garde label Leo Records. Leo’s eponymous boss, the renowned Soviet-era, Ganelin Trio-championing Leo Feigin, enthuses passionately about the release comparing the sound even to the Art Ensemble of Chicago. Life on the Edge however takes more than a few distinctive diversions of its own incorporating township grooves at the beginning, and that South African sound is something Speyer obviously enjoys borne partly through his reverence for Dudu Pukwana which goes back a long way, and his work in a number of projects over the years with District Six drummer Brian Abrahams.

Loz discusses Rocket Science, the second of his 11 compositions on the album and the way both soloists and rhythm section (Olie Brice on double bass and Gary Willcox drums) play with changes of pulse and time in the improvisation, echoing such explorations by Wynton Marsalis in his late-1980s Standard Time album; with the difference that the Inner Space approach is spontaneous, with a freely shifting time-feel achieved by the way the pulse sub-divides and he also points out the rubato feel on the tune Deep Sea Spirit. Spirit, ah, an often elusive quality Life on the Edge provides in brassily joyous abundance.

Loz Speyer’s Inner Space are at the  Vortex, London N16 on 27 June: Tickets

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