Album Review: Martin Speake – Intention
(Ubuntu Music UBU0009)
Martin Speake is a significant figure in contemporary British jazz, with 18 albums under his belt, including a notable collaboration with Paul Motian, and a long-standing and pivotal teaching post at Trinity Laban. Ethan Iverson has an established international reputation, and presumably more time on his hands since quitting The Bad Plus, so the circumstances seem ideal for them to renew the relationship that started when Iverson was only 17, and whose last concrete manifestation was the 2004 set of Great American Songbook duets released as My Ideal. This record features 10 originals by Speake, drawn from different stages in his long and fruitful career and demonstrating both his versatility as a composer, and Iverson’s impressive range as creative contributor. Spring Dance from his first album is a sprightly, major-key romp clearly indebted to Ornette Coleman’s classic Atlantic recordings with Iverson contributing a sparkling solo, limiting himself effortlessly to one hand to avoid un-Ornetteish chording; Twister is a politely bluesy groove reminiscent of Eddie Harris with a suitably in-the-pocket piano break; while The Heron matches the leader’s light-toned, plaintive alto with florid, lushly, romantic chording. James Maddren and F-ire Collective stalwart Fred Thomas are equally subtle and responsive in support, whether cooking up a quiet storm on the attractively afro-grooving Blackwell or enjoying a playful deconstruction of classic bop in a take on Parker’s Wig. Hidden Vision is a kind of gospel-flavoured excursion that the Keith Jarrett’s European quartet might have favoured, and Intention is a quiet, delicately intense piece, the band’s subtle approach allowing the leader’s alto space to dance over the gently thrumming bass ostinato and chiming chords. Overall, while there is much to enjoy and many deft touches from composer and band alike to admire, there’s a sense of restrained politeness throughout that means that while this record may delight it seldom grips in the way that Iverson’s more bombastic excursions with his former band used to – perhaps that was part of the appeal.
Martin Speake, alto sax; Ethan Iverson, piano; Fred Thomas, bass; James Maddren, drums
(Album to be released 20th April, 2018. Martin Speake Quartet feat. Ethan Iverson appear at The Verdict, Brighton on Sat. 21st April and JazzHastings on Tues. 1st May, 2018.)