Tell us about your band Inner Space.
“I first started the band in 2002 and it’s been running ever since. Chris Biscoe joined the band in 2003 and he’s still in, so he’s practically a founder member (originally it was Steve Buckley on saxophone and bass clarinet). It carried on as a quartet. The first album was a quartet, and that was the first quartet with Seb Rochford on drums and Julie Walkington on bass. The line up changed one by one. Seb got busy and the drummer Graham Fox joined us, then Olie joined us in 2008. It worked as a quartet for a while with Chris Biscoe. Olie Brice on bass is in the band now. Graham made a tremendous contribution to the music.”
“Rachel Musson was depping for us on a quartet gig or two and we realised that it would work well with three horns. It’s like doubling the size of the band when you do that, just adding one person, because it’s quite a different thing to write for. It opened more harmonic possibilities in the writing. In a way it made it less like the Ornette Coleman quartet which was a big influence early on; it gave it more weight in the horns, made it more Mingus-like and changed the focus of it musically. We kept it free. Rachel is a very free improviser with a jazz background.”
“It’s very interesting the contrast between the two sax players, Rachel and Chris, they’re very individual players. That’s the line up that we have now, except that very tragically Graham Fox died very young in 2011, then we had various different drummers for a while until we settled on Gary Wilcox, a little while before the tour we did two years ago. I find that Gary has the same sort of vibe and sensitivity that Graham had and it’s a really good quality that he brings to it.”
Is all of the material you play original?
“Yes, all of it is my originals, on the first album and the second album. Except in the tour that’s coming, although not for the April gig at The Verdict, the tour that’s in May & June, we’re going to do some collective compositions. We have Arts Council funding for this tour, starting in April. There’s only the one gig in April but then May and June we’re doing ten gigs and some collective composing with the whole band contributing. So that will be a bit of a new departure for the band. They’ve always relied on me to provide the material. I don’t quite know where that’s going to lead us, it’s quite interesting.”
“The theme has been ‘various ways of structuring improvisation with composition’. There’s quite a focus on the improvisation and it does completely different things on different tunes that I’ve written, like on the album for instance. So one tune might be ‘time no changes’, another one might be that the time or rhythmic metre might be changing . Another one might be free time. Another one might be a chord sequence, a straight-ahead approach, or it can change within a single piece. So there are lots of different approaches that we’ve taken already. I expect we’ll explore that further, with everyone writing.”
How did you first get into playing jazz?
“There was some jazz going on at my secondary school. There was an English teacher there who was a very good jazz pianist, Dave Lund, who set up a few concerts at the school where top jazz people would come. They were fairly straight ahead but they would come and play live. Also he had a band of sixth formers. I’d just started playing but they got me in for a gig in an old peoples’ home and I’d only been playing about three weeks and could only play a few notes, but it seemed to work. They were very nice to me. Then I formed a band with some mates at school and there was a lot of jazz going on in London at that time, so I started checking it out as a teenager.”
“I then spent 3 months in New York when I was 20/21. There was a scheme for students to get work permits for a summer so I went and did that and heard people like the Cecil Taylor Octet in a small venue, Sun Ra and his Arkestra, but also Dexter Gordon, Woody Shaw, all sorts of people that I heard live in small places. It was pretty exciting. I’d already started listening and reading about them. There’s a book by Val Wilmer that I read just before that which was very influential on me which was about avant-garde music, called As Serious As Your Life. It’s a great book. There’s a chapter on Sun Ra, a chapter on Cecil Taylor, chapters on Coltrane, Ornette Coleman and most of the people. Those influences I’ve put into Inner Space, whereas I have another band that does something quite different.”
So the other projects that you work on are your quartet and Time Zone?
“Time Zone is a six piece that has been going since 2003. Before that I had a quartet and made an album with them. I’ve been doing some of that stuff with a another, similar quartet, so that’s always been going on. But Time Zone is quite a big project, we’ve done two albums and just recorded a third. That’s a six piece with a strong Cuban influence so it’s much more groove orientated. We’re taking incredible liberties with Cuban music – traditional clave rhythms put into odd time signatures and things like that. It’s a nice project and a long-standing band with Martin Hathaway on sax and Stuart Hall on guitar, Maurizio Ravalico on congas with bass and drums.”
What are you planning to do in the future? You’ve got Arts Council funding for the tour, but what happens after that?
“Good question! What can happen is that you just go back to where you were before, but I’m hoping that, with the album which came out last year and this tour, we’ll be in a better place to approach festivals. I’ve been in contact with places in Europe, particularly Germany, France and Holland. I went to jazzahead! [the jazz conference in Bremen] last year and started to make contacts. It’s a bit of a long job but that’s where we need to be looking, for both bands.”
“Also I’ll be bringing out the Time Zone album. At the moment, these two bands are neck and neck. It’s hard to keep both going at once. At the moment, Inner Space has got loads of gigs with the tour, Time Zone hasn’t got any but it’s got this recording that’s going to go out. So I’d like to keep things moving. Neither one band is going to work all the time. Right now, Inner Space hasn’t played for six months. This is kind of a delayed album launch tour.”
“But we keep at it. With musicians at this level and the amount of playing that we’ve done, we did quite a big tour about two years ago. It seems like it carries on from where it left off. Sometimes it deepens. Following that, it carried on reaping the benefits of that tour, musically, for quite a while, and probably still will because we did a lot of playing together in a period of two months. And this is going to happen again.”
Loz Speyer’s Inner Space perform at The Verdict, Brighton on Friday 13th April, 2018.
Life on the Edge by Loz Speyer’s Inner Space is out now on Leo Records.
Loz Speyer spoke to SJM editor Charlie Anderson.
The book As Serious As Your Life by Val Wilmer has recently been re-printed by Serpent’s Tail.