CD reviews

CD REVIEW: Martin Speake – lntention

Martin Speake – Intention
(Ubuntu Music UBU00039. CD review by Mike Collins)

A quick perusal of Martin Speake’s prolific output over the last few years will be enough to remind anyone of both the diversity of his musical interests, and the range of musicians with whom he collaborates. On Intention he distills the breadth of those interests into a set of mainly Speake originals, working with a formidable quartet featuring former Bad Plus piano man, Ethan Iverson, F-ire collective luminary Fred Thomas on bass and drummer James Maddren.

There are loose, thoughtfully sculpted tone poems and scraps of melody over tumbling, evocative atmospheres. Becky opens the set with sketches and flourishes from Iverson before Speake joins in. Magic Show scurries more with alto boldy leading a unison statement of the theme before jousting duets between first piano and alto and then bass and drums.

The Heron is abstract and impressionistic, a delicate wisp of melody rising up through rhapsodic flourishes, flurries from the drums and a foreboding drone from the bass. The quartet work together on these pieces and momentum and tension are sustained. Even when one instrument bustles into the foreground, it’s nudged and ushered forward by the ensemble. On other pieces there are more direct grooves and melodies. Twister has a snappy, shuffling rhythm , the title describing the spiralling bluesy theme.

Spring Dance is Speake looking in several directions at once with the sprightly theme suggestive of a folk dance, maybe arranged by Bach, and played in the style of an early Ornette quartet. It produces glittering improvisations all round, Iverson in particular concentrating on single lines and creating fireworks. The Parker tune Charlie’s Wig, a Speake regular and the only non-original, produces more of the same, improvisations that bounce ideas around the band and take off in unexpected directions.

Dancing in the Dark is a moment of crystalline beauty, a track that has to be played twice everytime its turn comes round. An exercise in less is more, it’s not quite a bossa in an odd time, minimal chiming chords and a gently pulsing, liquid bass line, Speake’s focused sound easing out a slowly unfolding, arcing melody.

Wherever you dip into this album there’s a gem to savour, but it’s best just to sit back and enjoy the ebb and flow of expressive, emotional music and a top drawer band.

Mike Collins is a pianist and writer based in Bath, who runs the jazzyblogman site. Twitter @jazzyblogman

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