CD review

Loz Speyer’s Time Zone – Clave Sin Embargo

Loz Speyer’s Time Zone – Clave Sin Embargo
(Spherical Records. CD review by Richard Lee)

Now here’s a name I’ve bumped up against for the last I don’t know how long, but – well, you know how it is – I’ve never managed to catch him live or on record. My bad…

However, it’s a pleasure to make up for the omission with Clave Sin Embargo, the latest project of Loz Speyer’s world music band, drawing on his long association with, and the accumulated year he spent in, Santiago del Cuba. Eight new compositions explore the varied forms of the “key” to Cuban music – literally, the clave – assuredly delivered by an ensemble easily at home with the subtle shifts of time and key signatures that Loz demands of them. His own trumpet/flugel playing is terrifically fluid but he shares the stage with the equally adept reeds and guitar of Martin Hathaway and Stuart Hall. Completing the lineup are Dave Manington on double bass, Andy Ball on drums and Maurizio Ravalico on congas.

My Spanish is non-existent but I believe the album title translates as “Keys, however…”, or maybe “Keys without conditions”. The CD comes with detailed notes about Loz’s Cuban sojourn and other travels, from Berlin to Dalston via the Equator, and how they inform the compositions. It’s an album driven by placement – the distinctive variations of the clave rhythms that underpin each track – and displacements – those who seek asylum, who risk sea crossings and transcend walls to gain freedom. But that doesn’t mean the tone is mournful or in any way programmatic. The focus is a celebration of the rhythmic drive and melodic invention that Cuban forms inspire in Loz and his band of post-boppers.

The opener Stratosphere shows what the band is capable of, negotiating three changes of time. Lost at Sea is a pivotal piece on the album, not only because of its catchy riffs but it’s also an object lesson in timekeeping, seguing from 4/4 to 6/8 and double-timing with terrific ease. A wistful, quieter passage in the middle gives way to more joyful improv, ending on the earworm that stays with you for the rest of the day. Clearly, that year in Santiago del Cuba paid off…

Two of the pieces are re-workings of earlier Time Zone tunes: Mood Swings is the longest track on the album, opening with Martin Hathaway’s rather beautiful bass clarinet and is joined by Stuart Hall’s quirky chording; there’s superb drumming driving the vamp. I can see why Loz might return to this on a regular basis. Crossing The Line attempts to literally straddle two worlds of music and, as such, is the most challenging track. A loping theme gives way to a free section, then a contemplative ballad-like improvisation led by Hathaway; then back to the loping clave. To some extent, it’s an experiment, one that Loz clearly likes to revisit. I’m pleased though to have had his liner notes about meridians and time itself to accompany it.

The relaxed Full Circle is perhaps the least Cuban/most mainstream post-bop piece on the album, letting bandmates lay out their wares in a laid-back groove. Hathaway’s alto and Hall’s fretting are particularly rewarding.

Checkpoint Charlie is purportedly “a cheerful song about a hole in a wall” and its jaunty latin feel certainly does catch the optimism of a time when wall came tumblin’ down. The following Guarapanchanguero namechecks a particular stretched out rhythm and is the only tune on the album that stays in clave throughout. Hall’s guitar specifically references a Spanish feel at times, while the spiralling unison playing of trumpet and alto keeps things powering along, and there’s a great bass solo from Manington.

The album ends on a pretty straightforward high with Maurizio Ravalico’s congas – which have been a standout feature – driving Dalston Carnival, a dance number that should enliven any neighbourhood, as it clearly does Loz’s. Maybe yours? I’d recommend this album for anyone exploring the potential of Cuban-based music in post-bop jazz, but I also think you’ll have a really good time just leaving it on at a party.

The album is launched at the Vortex on 16 October.

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