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Gig of the week – Martin Speake/Ethan Iverson, April 26

April 20, 2018

With thoughts starting to turn to the treats of Cheltenham Jazz Festival, I reckon this gig the week before at St George’s hasn’t had the attention it deserves. I was explaining the other day how much I’ve enjoyed altoist Martin Speake’s work over the years. He really is one of the best UK players. He connected with Ethan Iverson years back – in one of the pianist’s side projects from the renowned trio that was then his main outlet. John Fordham reviewed their duo 2004 duo CD warmly, suggesting that “Iverson’s powers are probably better revealed in these bare surroundings than they are in the Bad Plus”.

Now they’ve got back together in a quartet – a format Speake famously used with another great keyboard exponent, Bobo Stenson, and Paul Motian. This one features everyone’s favourite young drummer, James Maddren and bass player Fred Thomas, and pays tribute to other greats, including John Taylor, Coleman Hawkins, and Charlie Parker. There’s a tune dedicated to Ed Blackwell, too. It’s not the first (there are others by John Stevens, Joe Lovano, Craig Harris and probably more) but that’s always a good way to put a drummer on their mettle. Maddren rises to the occasion, as you can see from this video made at the Vortex last year.

In fact, there’s a whole bunch of videos from that evening, sampling a range of moods from solidly bluesy…

to quietly beautiful.

They recorded a terrific studio set last year, too, which you can listen to on Bandcamp. It’s one of the nicest things I’ve heard this year.

Reputation alone would have me making a beeline for this gig, but you need not rely on that as there’s all this hard evidence this will be one of the best things to hit town this year. The other dates on their tour feature rather smaller venues than St. George’s, I think. It’d be great to see them pull a decent crowd to hear Iverson get acquainted with their lovely new Steinway.



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