MARTIN SPEAKE TRIO
SATURDAY 11TH JANUARY 2014
“Ian Mann enjoys an excellent live performance by the Martin Speake Trio and takes a look at their double album "Always A First Time".
Alto saxophonist Martin Speake and his trio got Shrewsbury Jazz Network’s 2014 programme off to a great start at this well attended gig at The Hive. Speake is one of the UK’s most versatile alto players and has recorded prolifically, often on his own Pumpkin label which he founded in 2007. Born in 1958 Speake came to prominence during the 1980’s jazz boom, initially as a member of the saxophone quartet Itchy Fingers. He later established a solo career and has worked with like minded musicians from all over the globe in a variety of different jazz styles and line ups, from the mainstream to the experimental, duo to jazz orchestra. A keenly intelligent musician Speake defies categorisation or pigeon holing.
Among his current projects is his innovative trio featuring guitarist Mike Outram and Speake’s long time collaborator, drummer Jeff Williams. In 2012 these three recorded the adventurous double album “Always A First Time”, a lavishly packaged collection that was released on Pumpkin in 2013. Largely recorded “live in the studio” the material includes an impressive collection of Speake originals, four jazz standards and an arrangement of a piece by Puccini (of which more later). Many of the pieces were first takes, hence the title, I guess. The style ranges from chamber jazz to more experimental, subtly rock tinged pieces, the music often beautiful but always fiercely intelligent.
Each tune is dedicated to a person, these ranging from Speake’s childhood jazz heroes and contemporary musical colleagues to more personal family dedications. There’s even a piece dedicated to Fidel Castro. The packaging is liberally sprinkled with thought provoking quotes from a wide variety of sources, musical, political, literary and philosophical, a reflection of Speake’s wide range of interests ( parallel to his musical career he practises Nutritional Medicine).
The material played at Shrewsbury was largely sourced from “Always A First Time” but there was one enforced change from the album line up. American born Williams had been obliged to return to the US to be with his father who is currently seriously ill. Here at the Jazzmann we wish Jeff and Mr. Williams Sr. well at this difficult time.
For the Shrewsbury show Mark Sanders stepped into the breach and acquitted himself superbly. Speake and Sanders are old friends and colleagues and collaborated on the spontaneous duo album “Spark”, reviewed elsewhere on this site. I’ve seen Sanders perform live before in bands led by saxophonists Paul Dunmall and Ken Vandermark and as part of guitarist Alex Ward’s powerful quartet Predicate. On each of these occasions he’s been an energetic “driver” of the band, tonight represented a welcome opportunity to see Sanders in more of a “colourist” role and he responded magnificently, giving notice as to just what a versatile musician he is. Amazingly this was his first performance with this particular trio but one would never have guessed.
The first set began with Speake’s tune “Pumpkin”, from which his record label took its name, Speake’s alto dovetailed delicately with Outram’s spidery guitar lines above a backdrop of Sanders’ cymbal shimmers. Speake exhibited a purity of tone and inventive turn of phrase that recalled that of Lee Konitz, one of his major inspirations. Outram was the perfect foil, his textured guitar playing making subtle use of tone controls and other electronic effects.
The title track from “Always A First Time” began with a sax/guitar duet and introduced a folk like melody which formed the basis for solos from Speake on typically pure toned alto and Outram on guitar, the latter’s feature full of inventive and imaginative chord progressions. Sanders meanwhile grew into his role, colouring the music intelligently as he deployed a variety of sticks, brushes and mallets. The similarly versatile Williams performs a similar role on the recorded version.
Solo saxophone ushered in an innovative arrangement of Rodgers & Hart’s standard “Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered”, Speake subsequently playing snatches of the melody as he soloed above the brushed bustle of Sanders’ drums. Outram’s solo saw him adopting a cleaner, more orthodox jazz guitar sound full of agile chording. Finally came a largely brushed drum feature from Sanders, which also saw him making imaginative use of his bass drum to convey complex rhythmic inflections.
Speake’s laconic announcing style saw him introduce the next tune as “this one’s by Puccini”. This proved to be the trio’s version of “O Mio Babbino Caro”, which also appears on the album. Saxophone and guitar gently ushered in Puccini’s memorable melody with Sanders later adding delicate brush work. However an innovative twist later saw the trio gradually steering the music in a more contemporary direction and flirting with atonality as Sanders swapped his brushes for sticks and mallets and Outram effected bass lines on the top strings of his guitar.
Bud Powell’s “Audrey” doesn’t appear on “Always a First Time” but the title suggests a dedication and the tune therefore seemed an appropriate choice. Another sax/guitar intro announced the boppish theme, this leading to a series of thrilling exchanges between Speake, Outram and Sanders and finally an extended solo from the drummer.
Returning to the album we heard “Folk Song For Paul”, Speake’s homage to the late, great drummer Paul Motian (1931-2011), with whom he collaborated on the 2006 ECM album “Change Of Heart”. Outram’s extraordinary solo guitar intro made subtle use of layering and looping effects before Speake’s alto stated the lovely, almost naïve, folk like melody. Gentle but imaginative solos by Outram and Speake were sympathetically supported by Sanders’ sympathetic brush work. Dedicated the piece to Motian, Speake revealed what a significant influence the older man had been on him.
The first half ended with an unannounced standard, most likely the album’s “When Your Lover Has Gone”, which included solos from Speake and Outram, exchanges with Sanders, and finally a drum featuring Sanders’ familiar use of brushes and bass drum.
The second set was equally fine, but by this time Speake seemed to be getting bored of tune announcements and the trio seemed to be enjoying themselves too much to let such niceties get in the way of their music making. Most people didn’t seem to mind but it’s not quite so easy for a reviewer!
The first piece began with an alto/drum duet and took the music into powerful, free jazz waters barely hinted at in the first set culminating in a stunning solo from Sanders that demonstrated the high octane style of his that I was more familiar with. Summoning an astonishing array of sounds from his kit Sanders produced a percussive tour de force that went down a storm with the Shrewsbury audience. The piece proved to be “In Code”, Speake’s spiky tribute to the great Ornette Coleman.
A change of pace for “Best Laid Plans”, an original piece with a melody that wouldn’t have disgraced a standard.
This pensive rendition included a wonderfully imaginative solo from Outram, reminiscent at times of Pat Metheny at his best, and an equally thoughtful and absorbing dialogue between old sparring partners Speake and Sanders.
The Speake original “15 Years Too Long” reintroduced the saxophonist’s bebop tendencies and included extended solo passages from each of the three instrumentalists.
“Country Boy” was Speake’s dedication to the American bassist Charlie Haden (one time colleague of Paul Motian, Ornette Coleman, Keith Jarrett, Carla Bley, Pat Metheny and many others). The title references Haden’s upbringing in rural Missouri (also Metheny’s home state) but behind the attractive melody the playing possessed a grit that reflected Haden’s later political activism.
Next up (I think) was “Secret Wood”, Speake’s dedication to his trio colleague Mike Outram. Song like in construction, the piece opened with Outram alone, establishing a hypnotic guitar motif which locked in with Sander’s drum groove to provide a backdrop for Speake’s opening solo. Outram’s own solo evidenced a strong rock influence, one that I’ve seen surface in his playing many times over the years in bands led by drummer Asaf Sirkis and others. As versatile as his colleagues Outram has worked extensively in other fields including pop, rock and theatre.
The second set concluded with two airy, gossamer light ballads which saw Outram playing without a pick to increase the overall air of tenderness and fragility. The second of these exquisite pieces was the standard “If I Loved You” by Rodgers and Hammerstein which saw the musicians expertly letting the music fade away to nothingness, as dramatic in its own quiet way as Outram’s earlier guitar pyrotechnics.
An attentive and enthusiastic audience summoned the trio back for a deserved encore and the band raised the energy levels once more with a free-wheeling excursion based around bebop styled motifs and with a final brilliant solo from Speake. This was later revealed to have been “Tom”, Speake’s dedication to the contemporary jazz drummer Tom Skinner (Sons of Kemet, Hello Skinny etc.).
Overall this was a performance that, for me, confirmed Speake’s continued reputation as one of the UK’s best saxophonists, a player with a particularly fertile musical mind. It also introduced me to fresh aspects in the playing of Outram and Sanders, both of whom were superb tonight.
SJN’s Hilary Hannaford was delighted with both the quality of the music and the size and enthusiasm of the audience. Once again the jazz listeners of Shrewsbury and beyond had proved their enthusiasm for top class adventurous contemporary jazz. A terrific start to 2014.
Meanwhile the trio’s album “Always A First Time” is highly recommended, an immaculately recorded double set full of imaginative and intelligent originals and similarly inspired arrangements of outside material. Retailing at just £10.00 on Speake’s website it represents excellent value for money – and the music is superb too.
SUNDAY 8TH DECEMBER 2013
Another great afternoon at what is a traditional highlight of the Jazz Network's year, the Annual Jazz Jam.
Much enjoyed by those taking part as well as those who came to watch.
Away from the hectic Christmas shopping and mince pies at the ready, the audience were entertained by some top local talent.
Julian Dean was MC and music leader for the afternoon. The house band support were Stuart Goodhew, piano, Gary Santry, drums, Deb Grey, electric bass and Dave Margaroni, bass.
We were pleased to welcome some newcomers who were much impressed by the high quality of jazz played.
Thank you to all those who came and helped us enjoy a jolly festive event!
Here are some pictures of the afternoon kindly sent to SJN by Kati Sheehan.
MATT RIDLEY TRIO
WITH SPECIAL GUEST JASON YARDE
Saturday 9th november 2013
Four outstanding musicians took us on a mesmerizing journey.
See this amazing review by the Jazzmann www.thejazzmann.com/reviews/review/matt-ridley-trio-with-jason-yarde-the-hive-shrewsbury-09-11-2013/
Pictures to follow soon.
Liam Noble's Brother Face
Saturday 12th October 2013
Another wonderful evening of music from this amazing quintet. The opportunity to have a real piano was the icing on the cake.
Pictures and comments to follow.
Till then see this review from the http://www.thejazzmann.com/
Shrewsbury Jazz Orchestra with special guest, Laura Collins
Saturday 14th September 2013
What a great start to our Autumn season. A full house and a fantastic audience.
Here is a lovely review by Ian Mann of www.thejazzmann.com
Shrewsbury Jazz Network’s autumn programme got off to a great start with this sold out performance by local heroes the Shrewsbury Jazz Orchestra who performed two lengthy sets of superbly arranged big band music with some items augmented by the voice of guest singer Laura Collins.
The musicians in the SJO mainly come from the Shrewsbury area but the Orchestra’s talent pool extends to many of the Midlands’ leading jazz players with a number of Birmingham based musicians swelling the band’s ranks.
The SJO is directed by Jim Mould, once the pianist of the band and still a performer on that instrument in small group settings. The evening began with the rhythm section of Stuart Goodhew (electric piano), Simon King (electric bass) and Carl Hemmingsley (drums) already on stage and playing as Mould called the three sections of four trumpets, four trombones and five reeds to the stage, the musicians walking through the crowd to generous applause. The tune proved to be Jobim’s “One Note Samba” with solos coming from Val Swingler on alto sax and Goodhew at the piano.
This lively opening was followed by the even more rousing “Lickety Splitz”, originally arranged by American trombonist Tom Garling for the book of the Maynard Ferguson Big Band. Swingler again asserted her credentials as one of the SJO’s leading soloists with a fluent and incisive solo that was reminiscent of such great players as Jackie McLean and the UK’s own Peter King. The piece was crowned by a drum feature from Hemmingsley, one of the most consistent and in demand musicians on the Birmingham jazz scene.
Simon King is a remarkable multi instrumentalist. A leading figure on the Midlands jazz circuit he plays guitar, bass and drums with equal brilliance and a quiet confidence. He normally fills the drum chair for the SJO but had moved across to bass in the absence of regular incumbent John Dover leaving room for Hemmingsley to come in on the traps. King is also a skilled arranger and his imaginative adaptation specifically for the SJO of Clifford Brown’s classic “Joyspring” genuinely was a joy. There were extended passages for each of the three horn sections (trumpets, saxes, trombones) with these punctuated by more conventional jazz solos by Goodhew, trumpeter Antony Stevens and tenor saxophonist Roy Johnson. King even allowed himself a brief cameo on electric bass. Storming stuff.
At this juncture Jim Mould welcomed guest vocalist Laura Collins to the stage for a rousing version of “The Song Is You”, slightly marred by microphone problems, a touch of feedback and excessive reverb, that thankfully was quickly sorted out. Originally from Cardiff but now based in Birmingham Collins made a very favourable impression with her 2010 album “Baltimore Oriole”, a very classy release on Spotlite Records featuring an excellent trio of Barry Green (piano), Jeremy Brown (bass) and Matt Skelton (drums) with strong guest appearances from trumpeter Dick Pearce and guitarist Sam Dunne. Since then she’s taken time out for the birth of her first child, a son, but is happily now back singing again. “The Look Of Love” featured a gentler arrangement which saw Swingler switching to flute.
Collins continued to demonstrate her range and flexibility with a lovely version of Jimmy Rowles’ “The Peacocks”, here with a new lyric and title by Norma Winstone that transformed the tune into the song “A Timeless Place”. This version of the piece was arranged by Birmingham based saxophonist Mike Fletcher with sumptuous horn voicings accompanying Collins’ assured Winstone like vocals. The lyrics were typical Norma Winstone, wordy, poetic and evocative with knowing references to the peacocks of Rowles’ title.
Collins’ first guest slot ended much as it began with singer and band gleefully tearing into “S’Wonderful” in typically rousing fashion.
The first half was rounded off by no fewer than three big band arrangements beginning with “Spring Can Really Hang You Up The Most” , a feature for Stevens on flugel horn. The tune was divided into two distinct sections, the first featuring Stevens’ sensuous ballad playing, the second completely different in feel and tempo as he demonstrated his bop chops with only Goodhew, King and Hemmingsley for company, the tune finishing with a lively drum feature.
“Grace” began with an opening chorus for the fourteen horns only before evolving into a tenor saxophone feature for local hero Ed Rees.
The first half closed with the splendidly funky “Conspiracy Theory” with King’s thick, juicy bass grooves the launch point for a feature for the trombone section of John Herbert, Dave Hayward, Reuben Aldridge and Andy Derrick. Birmingham based Derrick, one of the best known names in the SJO ranks, continued the momentum with an ebullient solo that owed something to the style of Gary Valente (ex Carla Bley Band) with Rees later taking over on r’n'b infused tenor. A storming end to a hugely enjoyable first half that was very well received by a capacity audience, possibly the largest I’ve ever seen at The Hive.
Following a well earned beer break the members of the SJO trickled their way back to the bandstand, no grand entrance this time! Last to take their positions were King and Hemmingsley, perhaps making up for their early arrival for the first set. However there was no let up in the energy or quality of the music. Under the baton of the amiable Mould SJO are a skilful, well drilled unit with an obvious enthusiasm for the music.
Set two began with US big band arranger Bob Florence’s “Carmelo’s By The Freeway”, a stirring call to arms featuring solos by Rees on tenor (carrying on where he left off) and Stevens on trumpet plus a series of drum breaks from the excellent Hemmingsley.
“Stolen Moments” featured the muscular tenor of Johnson, and the McLean like alto of Swingler, the latter bookended by trombone features for Derrick and Aldridge.
The music of Maynard Ferguson is a particular favourite of SJO director Jim Mould. Indeed Mould was lucky enough to see Ferguson’s Big Bop Nouveau Band on the trumpeter’s 70th birthday tour back in 1998. The night’s second Ferguson tune was a bright and punchy “Cruisin’ For A Bluesin’” with some bravura open horn trumpet soloing from Stevens as he stepped into the Ferguson slot. Others to excel were Derrick on trombone and the saxophone section who passed the lead around the altos and tenors. The piece was climaxed by Hemmingsley at the drums and by the end both band and audience seemed in need of a breather.
This was partially provided by the return of Collins, sporting her second costume of the evening as she got back into the spirit of jazz diva-dom. The song was “Gentle Rain” with Stevens excelling on flugel during a brief instrumental section.
The singer was at her most flirtatious and theatrical on “Alright, Okay, You Win” , a tune made famous by Peggy Lee. The band played some great charts too.
Collins is also an excellent ballad singer and exuded real emotion on the evergreen “Cry Me A River”. Then it was another character change for a storming “St’ Louis Blues” which the vocalist dedicated to wronged women everywhere before delivering the lyrics of WC Handy’s songs in vituperative, mock theatrical fashion. Great stuff. I’ve only seen or heard Collins in small group contexts before and it was interesting to see her fronting a big band. Occasionally she had to resort to shouting to make herself heard but on the whole this was a performance she grew into, becoming increasingly relaxed and vivacious, particularly in the second set. It’s good to have her back.
The SJO draw on admirably wide range of sources and it was an unexpected pleasure to find a Pat Metheny tune included in the set, “Always And Forever” from Pat’s “Secret Story” album. A warm arrangement featured Stevens’ flugel at its most rounded and velvety, this contrasting nicely with the more “full on” band passages. I’m aware that big band arrangements of Metheny tunes are not uncommon and that the (very good) London based Big Band Metheny specialise in such renditions but as a Metheny fan it was still good to hear it.
Charles Mingus’ “Moanin’” was a feature for baritone saxophonist Sarah Lewis, a real low register fest with its bari vamp and solo and with Andy Derrick weighing in too on growling trombone.
The band just love playing funk charts and closed with the strutting “The Chicken” , opening with a brassy fanfare before King set up the groove, the bassist sharing the solos with tenor sax and piano. The crowd loved it and the band needed little coaxing back for an encore, staying with the funk on an item whose title I forgot to note, basically because I was enjoying myself too much to bother with technicalities. However I do remember that it featured Ed Rees on soprano.
This was a really enjoyable night of music making. For an essentially “amateur” band (of tonight’s performers only Collins and Derrick appear to have their own websites) the SJO play to an extraordinarily high standard and in Jim Mould they have a director who brings the best out of them and presents the music in an informative and easy going manner. A sell out audience containing many family and friends gave them a great reception but make no mistake they earned it.
It was also good to see Laura Collins singing again. Her contribution was also much appreciated by the Hive audience and it’s to be hoped that she can continue to work around motherhood and become more fully involved with the jazz scene once more, a second album is long overdue.
But at the end of the day this was the SJO’s night, it’s easy to see just why they’re so popular with local audiences. Tonight’s bumper attendance also revealed that there’s a ready market out there for big band jazz, something that makes the BBC’s decision to axe it’s Big Band Special programme and reduce the budget of the BBC Big Band appear even more ridiculous and untenable.
I don’t like to end on a gripe so to paraphrase Jim Mould congratulations to everyone involved for a great evening’s music “Live at The Hive”.
Thanks also to Geoff Inwood for featuring the event on his website