PREVIEW/ FEATURE: Loz Speyer (Inner Space Touring Dates in June)

Loz Speyer’s Inner Space
Photo Credit: Katie D Edwards

There is experimentation galore from the new tour by LOZ SPEYER’s Inner Space, writes Martin Chilton. They are improvising new material and giving a fresh presentation of songs from their fine 2017 album Life On The Edge. All of this, admits Speyer, “keeps us on our toes”.

Life on the road again – including the delights of shared van driving and late night return journeys – was in part made possible thanks to some Arts Council England funding that required intensive form filling. The Arts Council ask for tour feedback, however, which has resulted in some positive reactions by audiences ranging from Brighton to Bristol. Loz Speyer says: “It’s hard to know what to expect at our gigs, because we can be alarming to different camps of the jazz world. But more than 50 per cent of the audience have been filling out response forms and people have described our music as ‘unusual’, ‘challenging’ and ‘different’ … but saying they mean these descriptions in a positive way.”

Speyer, who writes interesting themes and plays trumpet and flugelhorn in a fluent free-bop style, believes that the band’s interaction has deepened over the past two years and that they revel in playing freely. “We can be digging back into the traditions of swing, with three horns doing counterpoint, and then move into more free jazz, where the rhythm and structure are constantly changing.”

In one new direction for Inner Space, they are playing music that has been collectively composed by all five band members, with fragments by the various contributors pulled together on stage. Speyer explains: “It was a bit of a nightmare to rehearse but we realised we were trying to control the music too much and that it was best to leave it to improvisation on the night. So for the first part of this 2018 tour we chose from about nine or 10 pieces or parts of pieces, but did not join them until the concert. That puts us on edge, because we don’t even know whether a tune will even be played slow or fast.”

The members of Inner Space are Rachel Musson (tenor and soprano saxes); Olie Brice on the double bass; alto saxophonist and clarinet player Chris Biscoe, who has worked with numerous top jazzmen over the past three decades, including Mike Westbrook, and who has been part of Inner Space for 15 years; and drummer Gary Willcox, the newest member, who joined the band in 2015.

“We all bring different influences and we have five bandleaders in the group,” says Speyer. “Rachel is more active in improvisation, while Chris brings with him influences of past projects, such as the one celebrating Eric Dolphy. We do about one tune per set of this collective music – and are looking to do more of this during the Autumn.

The 2017 album Life On The Edge was co-produced by Speyer and Leo Records founder Leo Feigin, and Speyer’s composition Rocket Science, the second of 11 tracks on the album, is often reinvented live, with open grooves, different soloists and modulated tempos. Speyer has added another innovative element – a series of “portraits” dedicated to jazz greats such as drummer John Stevens, saxophonist Steve Lacy and pianist and composer Sun Ra.

Celebrating the work of master jazz players is something that started for Speyer with his piece Innate Ornette, honouring Ornette Coleman. Speyer explains: “I wanted to write something to evoke his spirit and what I feel about the greatness, flexibility and naturalness of his music.

“I met Sun Ra and John Stevens, and felt a personal connection to both. It’s subjective to write a portrait of someone, but I can honestly say that when I first heard Sun Ra, at a time I was about 21 in New York and going through a difficult period, it was a life-changing experience. Years later in London I met him and told him about that gig. I was in awe of him but he was a very welcoming man.

“John had a big impact on me as a youngster, especially with his ‘Search and Reflect’ guide to music workshops and then seeing his great gigs in small pubs and clubs. I had a real connection with his jazz and his links to South African music. I called my tribute Even Stevens.”

Although the tour is going well, jazz in the UK is in a mixed place at the moment, Speyer believes. “On the one hand, there is a lot of really creative music being made and played and a huge pool of talented musicians to call on. And I would also say that the barriers between different styles of jazz have been breaking down,” he remarks. “On the other hand, it is a difficult time economically. Cutting Jazz Services was a disaster in terms of funding for bands and I worry that the age group for following jazz is in the older groups. There needs to be more exposure on radio and TV for jazz and on stations that reach a younger audience.”

Life is busy for Speyer, who has also arranged music by Malcolm Jarvis for a 10-piece band for a forthcoming film about drummer Clifford Jarvis (who himself initiated this project with Speyer in 1997). But after all the work sorting out funding, travel logistics and writing and rehearsing for the tour, it is a thrill for Inner Space to be out playing gigs again, he says.

There are seven more dates on the present nationwide tour to go – including gigs in Birmingham, Sheffield and Manchester – before a finale at London’s Vortez Jazz Club on 26 June. “There is a tremendous buzz about touring again,” Speyer says. “It’s been fantastic to do consecutive gigs and be a band again. We feel uplifted and, even when you are getting back at four in the morning, it is exciting. This is how life as a musician should be.” (pp)

For full tour details see www.lozspeyer.com

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