The distinctive tone of UK saxophonist Martin Speake has been well-known since his work with Itchy Fingers in the 1980s. Since then, he’s recorded 23 albums, including one for ECM with Paul Motian, Bobo Stenson and Mick Hutton. His International Quartet has a 17-date tour coming up, with pianist Ethan Iverson (formerly of the Bad Plus), bassist Calum Gourlay and drummers Jorge Rossy (until 19 Feb) or Jeff Williams (from 20 Feb). There are plans to film the band on the road, and to record a new live album on tour. Email interview with Martin Speake by Alison Bentley:
LondonJazz News: Your new International Band has musicians from the US, Scotland and Spain. What drew you to these musicians?
Martin Speake: I can’t wait to play with these people! They all play for the music. Ethan Iverson and I have known each other for 30 years, since we met at Banff Centre for the Arts in Canada. We were both students on a summer course in 1990, and Steve Coleman was the artistic director: life-changing in many ways. Ethan was 17 at the time and already I could hear he had a special approach to playing, and not the usual influences. We kept in touch for a while by real letters!
We lost touch then and about 10 years later I looked him up. I found he was coming to London with Mark Morris Dance Company who he was musical director for, so we had a play and I booked a duo tour months later. We recorded the ballad duo CD My Ideal and we did 10 dates round Britain. Shortly after this the Bad Plus began extensive worldwide touring and Ethan wasn’t available for another 17 years until he left that band. This was two years ago and we recorded Intention (Ubuntu Records) then, an album of mostly my music with James Maddren and Fred Thomas. Ethan draws on the whole century of the jazz tradition in his playing and is a scholar of the music, like me. He knows all my musical reference points so no need to tell him how to play my music.
LJN: And the others?
MS: Calum Gourlay I have known for 15 years since he was student at the Royal Academy of Music, and we have played together many times since then, including in the co-operative band Thelonious with Hans Koller. I have been lucky to play in Calum’s big band featuring his unique compositions.
He plays the bass in the tradition of Oscar Pettiford, Tommy Potter, Charles Mingus, Charlie Haden and updates these influences to the present. If I get lost in the music I know he will anchor it!
This will be the first time I will be playing with Jorge Rossy, having heard many recordings of him with his generation of players such as Brad Mehldau, Mark Turner, Ethan Iverson, Chris Cheek and more recently in his own quintet where he composes and plays vibes. His drumming always seems to be unpredictable and committed to the moment and also with extensive knowledge of the jazz tradition.
Jorge is doing the first seven dates, finishing in London at the Pizza Express – that one we will record.
Jeff Williams is doing the remaining 10 dates. He has played my music for 15 years and is always inspiring to play with. We have played many gigs together and also many other informal playing sessions with various musicians so I feel we connect very well musically, and know each other’s playing. I love the weight and intensity of his beat. There is nobody else like him.
LJN: Can you give us an idea of what you will be playing?
MS: It will be my tunes mainly. Ethan talked about bringing some of his tunes. Maybe a tune to celebrate Charlie Parker, as it is the centenary of his birth; some of the tunes from Intention and some new ones, as we will record some gigs on this tour for possible future release. Also one or two rarely heard standard songs.
LJN: You have a 17-gig tour in 17 days, including one in Switzerland! How did the tour come together?
MS: I checked with Ethan when he had a three-week free period and then I began the work about a year ago. The tour came about by me putting a lot of hours into contacting promoters, getting rejections and lots of positive responses too. To have consecutive dates with this number of dates is a rare event. I did manage a three-week solid tour with my trio a few years ago, but it is getting harder to do that so I am very pleased how this has worked out. I am also planning to film us on the road, talking, rehearsing, eating, laughing, crying, being tired and travelling to different cities, and maybe release it as a documentary of jazz musicians on the road. Something not often known about in the wider world. I have some Arts Council England funding to help with hotels and travel, otherwise I am not sure what I would have done! All the gigs will be special for me, but as Jorge’s last date is in London at Pizza Express (when we record) on 19 February after a week of playing in the tunes, hopefully we will be on fire that night.
14 Feb Wakefield Jazz
15 Feb Leeds Jazz 7 Arts
16 Feb Band On The Wall-Manchester
17 Feb Hastings
18 Feb Watermill Dorking
19 Feb Pizza Express London
20 Feb Cambridge Modern Jazz
21 Feb Sheffield
22 Feb Brighton Verdict
23 Feb Wells Cathedral School
24 Feb Abingdon School
25 Feb Chapel Arts Cheltenham
26 Feb Birds Eye Basel Switzerland
27 Feb Blue Lamp Aberdeen
28 Feb Leeds College of Music 2pm-4pm workshop and evening concert
29 Feb South Hill Park Bracknell