CD Review: Martin Speake - Always a First Time



Martin Speake - Always a First Time
(Pumpkin 005. CD Review by Chris Parker)


‘We all played from the heart. I hope you can feel that when you listen’ is Martin Speake’s comment on this, his latest recording, a double CD featuring his lyrical, clear-toned but surprisingly robust alto playing alongside the multi-textured electric guitar of Mike Outram and the subtly assertive drumming of Jeff Williams.

The most obvious template for such a band is of course the Paul Motian Trio (featuring tenor player Joe Lovano and guitarist Bill Frisell) of a couple of decades back, and there are moments (especially during the albums’ numerous standards – cf. the Motian trio’s various ‘On Broadway’ recordings – but also on ‘O Mio Babbino Caro’) where Frisell’s ‘flames flickering from a log’ sound and Motian’s rustling, controlled vigour are echoed by this trio; overall, though, Speake’s playing is what draws the ear: a heartfelt, occasionally plaintive but always vigorous and eloquent sound.

On material ranging from Ornette-ish stridency and pep to hushed ballads, the trio demonstrate appropriate versatility and flexibility, bouncing ideas off each other in a conversational manner that demonstrates not only their mutual understanding but also their hair-trigger sensitivity to the nuances of their material, standard or original. Infused with the pleasing informality that results from playing ‘live’ in the studio – ‘Mike, Jeff and I all played in the same room with no headphones and almost every tune was a first take’ – these two CDs comprehensively vindicate Speake’s belief in the value of ‘the close communication that improvising musicians need with each other to create freely’.

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