Martin Speake: His Ideal
By the time '99 had rolled around, Speake had a new rhythm section for his quartet, which recorded Hullabaloo. Gone were Steve Watts and Steve Arguelles, and in their places, bassist Mick Hutton, who played on Amazing Grace , and young drummer Tom Skinner. "I've played with Mick for a long time," says Speake, "in fact I can remember playing with him at my mom's house when I was quite young. I needed to change the band and I really wanted him to be in it, I think he's one of the greatest bass players in the world. He's got an incredibly strong personality, which I really like. A lot of bass players seem to be quite passive people, and maybe it's something to do with the nature of the instrument they choose, because it's in a supportive role most of the time, and apart from people like Dave Holland and Charlie Haden and a few others, there are not many bassists who lead bands. But with Mick, he's a really unique individual, and incredibly strong.
"Tom Skinner is from a younger generation of musicians," continues Speake, "he's still in his early twenties, but he's one of the most mature musicians I've met, and at that age it's ridiculous. I started playing with him when he was about eighteen, a mutual friend had introduced us, and we had a play and really hit it off. He's an incredible listener, listens to loads of music. So I've had a relationship with him for five or six years now."
Since Hullabaloo , John Paricelli's increasingly busy schedule has forced Speake to recruit a new guitarist, Mike Outram, for the quartet. "Mike's actually more appropriate for the quartet than John," Speake says, "as much as I loved John. He's actually got more jazz in him than John. He can actually play anything, and to an incredibly high standard. He knows quite a lot of tunes, which is nice; I like the idea of just calling tunes, I like to be able to do that with people. Some people who are into playing original music all the time, they don't know many tunes. That's quite an important thing for me, if I want to play in that area. Mike really likes bebop and he really likes playing groove things, contemporary developments; he even likes to thrash out and turn it up if the situation calls for it."
While Speake has developed quite a book of music for the quartet over the past decade, he never looks back. "I know Tom likes to do that, he pushes me to play completely different material," Speake says. "I remember Pat Metheny talking about the energy that people have between the ages of sixteen and twenty-five, and I get a lot of that from Tom, he's got a sense of urgency that you seem to see in people that age. But we also do tunes by other people now. I rearrange some things a little bit, like 'Where You Are,' a very old tune that Dexter Gordon recorded, I do that with a pedal point. And we do 'For All We Know,' but with a different coda that I wrote for it. We're doing a Neil Young tune, and a bit of the Indian/Arabic thing as well, so we mix it up a fair bit."
Unhappy circumstances have also caused Speake to recently recruit a new bassist, Tom Herbert, for the band. "Sadly Mick Hutton isn't playing any more," Speake explains. "Six years ago he fell and tore a ligament in his left hand, had an operation and thought it was okay, but it's gone again. A few months ago he was telling me he had to change the keys of tunes on some sessions in order to be able to play them, and now he just can't play at all. I'm hoping he's going to recover, but I got a note from him a few days ago, saying that for the foreseeable future he wouldn't be playing. It's incredibly tragic."
In 2000 Speake heard from a Canadian bassist, Duncan Hopkins, who he'd met briefly at Banff back in 1990. "I got this letter from him saying that he'd heard one of my recordings on the radio in Canada," Speake describes, "and it jogged his memory to write to me. He said he was coming over to England because he had family to visit, and if I fancied getting some gigs together and playing that would be great. In the meantime I went to play at a jazz festival in Jersey, as a guest soloist with a rhythm section, and the drummer was Anthony Michelli. We played and hit it off musically. When I mentioned to Anthony, who lives in Toronto as Duncan does, that I'd heard from Duncan recently, he said he'd played with him in Toronto. So I thought there was some kind of fate going on here, and decided to put together this band with Duncan and Anthony, and recruit Nikki Iles. I managed to get about two weeks of gigs consecutively, which is pretty rare, everyone was free and really up for doing it, and so we did the tour and then went into the studio and recorded Secret just as if it were another gig, which is my favourite way of recording."
While Secret is a true cooperative recording, with everyone contributing compositions, one of the most notable characteristics is that, amongst the varied compositions by all concerned, Speake's compositions stand out as having a distinct voice, a unique language. And that's all the more remarkable considering the tunes range from the Arabic-informed "J.T.'s Symmetrical Scale" to the ECM-inflected "Secret Wood." "Melody is definitely the most important thing for me in my writing," says Speake, "it might have to do with my being a terrible singer, but most of my tunes are quite singable and this is really from Keith Jarrett and Ornette Coleman I'm sure."