Two in perfect step: new album by Martin Speake

The latest CD from British saxophonist Martin Speake is a fertile offering of free improvisation, with music created on the spot in the white-heat of the recorded moment together with pianist Douglas Finch. Recorded almost in a single take, often without prior agreement on material, the album shows Speake in sparkling form, with Finch a perfect foil for his restless, yet lyrical, skirling improvisations.

Chorale proceeds in stately poise, with a highly flexible piano accompaniment moving in chords beneath Speake’s melodic line. Stück has an understated robustness, with solid pulsing chords supporting questing melodic shapes, which develops a bluesy character before the two instruments peel off into linear improvisations, chasing and leaping over each other with the agility of cats at play.

There’s a timelessness about the gesture which opens the beautifully lyrical Berceuse, echoed in the piano - two musicians absolutely in tune with one another; the melodic line in the saxophone unfurls slowly above a beautifully colourful, lulling accompaniment which eventually draws the piece to a close as it evaporates in a gossamer haze.  In contrast, the later Hoedownup bustles in with ceaseless movement, the two instruments locked in a kind of frantic grappling.

Speake’s unmistakeable, trademark lyricism is matched by the warm, impressionistic palette of Finch’s piano-playing. He has an enviable gift for linear, melodic improvisation; his lines have an organicism to them, a linear logic that gives them a sense of direction, of integrity. Listening to this disc, it’s difficult to believe that the music is spontaneously improvised, with little or no prior organisation.  There’s a shared musical language between the two instruments, an empathetic exploration of similar soundworlds that means both saxophonist and pianist are moving through the same landscape.

Speake’s career began in the fierce, no-holds-barred furnace of Itchy Fingers (a legacy you can hear in the wailing dissonance of the title track, a homage to Xenakis), moving on through various groups including the Change of Heart Group with the great pianist Bobo Stenson, to the current trio which includes the astonishing inventiveness of guitarist Mike Outram. Speake and Finch met through working at Trinity Laban, and this disc is a tremendous record of a serendipitous musical symbiosis.

Sound Clouds is available from Speake’s own label, Pumpkin Records.

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