Sometimes, there’s something about a trio. No time to repeat so here’s a link to a review elsewhere, where I tried to say why.
There certainly was last night at the Fringe. Partly because master drummer Jeff Williams was back in the room, getting reacquainted with Tony Orrell’s sparkly kit. But mainly because the trio – Martin Speake on alto and Mike Outram on guitar – are such a superb unit. They’ve played together on and off for a long while, with long layoffs, and now can just come together when opportunity presents and immediately reach peak form, apparently.
Exchange alto for tenor, and the sound is strongly reminiscent of the Motion/Lovano/Frisell trio – one of the groups I love best and to my mind one of the finest improvising ensembles of the last 30 years. It’s not a difficult connection to make: Speake recorded with Motian, and they play a tune dedicated to the late, great percussionist. But it’s difficult to do what they did, and do it this well. This formation does.
Speake’s alto sound and line – descended from Parker via Konitz and Coleman – is always riveting. Outram isn’t especially Frisell-like (though he could be), but shares Bill’s complete command of the instrument. His several freewheeling duos with Williams were a joy. And the drummer, who can offer out of time commentary as interesting as Motion’s, although he’s usually more assertive than the latter was in the last decade or so of his career, has that relaxed intensity that draws you in to the music.
I’ve listened to Speake a lot since the Itchy Fingers days, mainly on record, and he’s always been a fascinating player: one of the quietly industrious but rather brilliant talents who adorn the UK scene but who you aren’t likely to find making headlines in Jazzwise. He always has something interesting to say, whether on his own distinctive compositions, well-chosen standards, or even a favourite bit of Puccini. On last night’s evidence, and from the CD the trio made a few years ago that’s now on my shelf, this trio may allow his best work. Hope it’s not too long before they get together again. Meantime, he’s visiting Bristol again next month, when a rather special quartet including Ethan Iverson – late of The Bad Plus – are booked at St George’s.