Martin Speake: Change Of Heart (2006)
One of the more interesting extra-musical things to observe in jazz is how the connections between musicians happen, and then, of course, how those connections affect the music they produce.
In 1993, Martin Speake connected with Paul Motian, and they toured as a trio with bassist Mick Hutton, playing both Speake's and Motian's compositions. Fast forward seven years to 2000 and Speake added Bobo Stenson to the group, playing and composing music that was sensitive to both Motian's and Stenson's jazz conception. Stenson's Goodbye (ECM, 2005) is a direct result of Stenson and Motian playing together in Speake's band.
A delightful album, Change Of Heart has the perfect mix of understated playing and melodies that are direct, yet full of surprising turns of phrase and varied musical development. While it's entirely comprised of Speake compositions, it sounds at times very much like Motian's Garden of Eden (ECM, 2006) in the way the floating quality of Speake's phrasing is reinforced by Motian's drums and his very cool (meaning reserved, understated and thoughtful) sound, which evokes Chris Cheek's work on the Motian album.
Thus, Speake's response to Motian is clearly audible. Stenson is remarkably adept at fitting chameleon-like into any role, still being totally himself. While he might also be described as a cool player, the pianist always adds intensity to every note and phrase he plays.
Speake's alto tone is quite interesting, and if you close your eyes, it sounds at times like a trumpet with some kind of subtle mute. His phrasing has a strong vocal quality as he sings through his horn. The album's melodies take their time to unfold, and this quality is echoed in the way the tracks proceed and how each member of the group adds to the mix, yielding music with an organic wholeness.
For me, the essence of Change Of Heart is evident in the last track, "In Code." Introduced by Hutton alone on bass, an atmosphere of mystery and suspense is created, only to be intensified by the entrance of Motian and Stenson. As Speake plays the theme, supported mostly by a pedal tone, Stenson echoes and embellishes each phrase. The music washes upon the shores as Speake jumps into a higher range, as if to try to escape from the pedal anchor. Stenson replies with a magnificent solo that encapsulates his cool blue burning intensity and leads seamlessly to Speake's recap.
Simple directness, overtly beautiful, cool and compact: just wonderful.
Track Listing: The Healing Power of Intimacy; Change of Heart; Barefaced Thieves; Venn; Buried Somewhere; In The Moment; Three Hours; In Code.
Personnel: Martin Speake: alto saxophone; Bob Stenson: piano; Mick Hutton: bass; Paul Motian: drums.