When a locally based jazz scene suddenly becomes vibrant and attracts the attention of the wider non-specialist broadsheet press, as is the case at present with the London jazz scene, sometimes some of the most interesting and individual voices can consequently get lost in the media rush to discover the young Turks, and in the case of alto saxophonist, composer and educator, Martin Speake, that would be a great shame. For those not familiar with his work, a good decade ago, Speake had already progressed to the ECM label where he recorded an album in 2006, ‘Change Of Heart, with Bobo Stenson in the main pianist role and that collaboration is reprised here. That experience with the venerable German label has clearly served him well and on his latest album, ‘Intention’, with the creative Ubuntu label that prides itself on the quality of its musicians, he has both a long-term friend and collaborator, pianist Ethen Iverson, on board. The quartet is completed by bassist Fred Thomas and drummer James Madden. All bar one of the compositions are originals and the album itself is self-produced. The one standard, ‘Dancing In The Dark’, receives a respectful and tasteful reading, with alto in gentle mode.
As with distinctively individual voices, the musical influences tend to be outside their own instrument and here those influences include John Coltrane, Keith Jarrett, Steve Lacy and Joe Lovano, with the Frisell/Lovano/Motian trio albums key in informing the intimacy of the quartet sound. That said, there are shades of Ornette Coleman on both the melodic, ‘Spring Dance’, with some deft percussive accompaniment on drums, and the piano out at times, and, ‘Charlie’s wig’, which in tone harks back to those early Contemporary albums of Coleman. A stunning duet between Iverson and Speake on ‘The Heron’, is a real highlight, recalling in part the wonderful work of Hank Jones and Joe Lovano. That musical relationship between Ethan Iverson and Martin Speake goes all the way back to 1990, when they met a local arts centre in Canada, while studying with no less than Steve Coleman with his M-Base work an undercurrent of influence for a good few of the younger generation of British jazz musicians.
Musicians of the quality of Martin Speake should not be overlooked in the current plethora of British jazz recordings coming out. They make a vital contribution to the movement as a whole and are fully deserving of our attention. A real grower of an album.