CD review

Martin Speake & Alex Maguire – Feathers

Martin Speake & Alex Maguire – Feathers
(Pumpkin Records. 011. CD Review by Patrick Hadfield)

This two-CD set from Martin Speake (alto saxophone) and Alex Maguire (piano) shows the two improvisers in deep conversation, exchanging ideas and developing themes. Spanning a range of genders but deeply rooted in improvisation, there’s a lot of freedom in the music, whilst maintaining familiar elements to jazz and, at times, classical music.

Over an hour and a half of music, it is not an easy record to define, the pieces encompassing a variety of moods. There’s a spikiness that’s almost Monk-like with Different Roads; mournful on Majolica. The duo hit a seam of gentle romance on Mellow Eightpence and Six Sisters, and Maguire literally gets into his stride during Dotties.

Speake is unaccompanied on Prana; Maguire similarly on Eau De Nil and Armistice-Sorry To Be Me, a long track on which Maguire really stretches out, producing music that is reminiscent of solo Ellington and Abdullah Ibrahim. Another Speake solo track closes the collection: Embrace is a classic piece of romantic bebop, a ballad that feels timeless.

Maguire’s piano can be quite emphatic but also more exploratory, particularly in some of the quieter passages. Speake’s alto has a lovely, yearning tone, and he is content to leave space for the sound to be heard rather than cramming in as many notes as possible.

But it is the dialogue between Speake and Maguire that is central to this album. They worked together for two years developing this music. It produced depth and intensity. It’s as if they’re guiding each other along a path, taking turns to lead. At times there’s tension and uncertainty; at others there’s certainty of direction.

Patrick Hadfield lives in Edinburgh, occasionally takes photographs, and sometimes blogs at On the Beat. Twitter: @patrickhadfield.

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