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Saturday, June 16, 2018

Martin Speake @ Opus 4 Jazz Club, Darlington - June 15

Martin Speake (alto saxophone); Paul Edis (piano); Andy Champion (double bass); Russ Morgan (drums)
(Review by Russell) 
Ingerlund! Ingerlund! Ingerlund! Yes, it’s that time of year, England expects…not very much. The quadrennial global festival of football is underway. In the lounge of the Traveller’s Rest the World Cup match in progress – Portugal v Spain, Even-Stephen at 2-2 – was being watched by the few, with the majority more concerned with getting the beers in and then climbing the stairs to claim a seat in readiness for the appearance of Martin Speake.


Earlier in the day, saxophonist Martin Speake played to another large turn out in the Gala’s Studio Theatre. Working with a friend of old, adopted Geordie, drummer Russ Morgan and two of the north east’s home-grown, world-class jazz musicians – pianist Paul Edis and bassist Andy Champion – Speake made the short hop from the Land of the Prince Bishops down to Opus 4 Jazz Club for this summer’s evening engagement. The one-time Itchy Fingers’ man must have been delighted Russ, Paul and Andy were available for both gigs.

A man of few words, Speake let his alto speak, so to Speake. Under the gaze of Opus 4’s gallery of jazz greats, the altoist’s modus operandi – state the theme, develop extended solo, step aside, listen to the contributions of his fellow musicians, return centre stage to take it out – is, perhaps, a model some others could adopt. Grandstanding wasn’t his game, consummate musicianship was. Speake’s full, lyrical tone is rooted in old-school ways of playing with an ear to the current crop of incisive, biting alto saxophonists. Victor Young’s Delilah, with particular reference to the EmArcy recording by Clifford Brown and Max Roach, illustrated Speake’s default adherence to the bebop revolution. Where Are You? (comp. Adamson/McHugh), I Wish I Knew (comp. Warren/Gordon), Once in a While (a US No.1 for Tommy Dorsey), it was refreshing to hear a set list comprised of fewer predictable standards. It’s probable that the trio received little, or no, notice of the altoist’s selections. How magical it was that they produced such a flawless performance.

One of many highlights – a double helping of Charlie Parker, first Drifting on a Reed, followed by Bird Feathers – must have had Speake thinking his Durham/Darlington day away was one of his more satisfying engagements such was the brilliance of his bandmates. Speake’s wonderful solo excursions were more than matched by pianist Edis, Champion’s imperious bass playing and the class act at the back, drummer Morgan.

Opus 4 regulars groaned, some dared to titter, as Speake introduced Strangers in the Night (the tune Frank Sinatra didn’t like singing!). How wrong can one be?! The evening’s star guest turned the number inside out, re-harmonising and improvising as if on one of Bird’s reeds. To close the evening Speake chose to play Round Midnight then Richard Rodgers’ If I Loved You. An assured performer is Speake, it had been a while since his last appearance in the region, here’s hoping he returns sooner rather than later.   
Russell                   

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