Martin Speake / Alex Maguire: Feathers

Matt Parker By

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A partnership which perhaps could and should have developed years ago, saxophonist Martin Speake and pianist Alex Maguire both attended the legendary Barry Jazz School in 1979 which featured an incredible cast of tutors ,including Stan Sulzmann, Keith Tippett, Gordon Beck, Allan Holdsworth and many other "A" list British jazz musicians. Amazingly Speake and Maguire failed to meet at this junction and would have to wait nearly 40 years for their paths to finally cross, at a chance meeting in London's 606 club. This led to a period of intense work together over the following two years, the fruits of which, and the influence of those British jazz greats who tutored them, can be heard on their debut duo album Feathers.

It is a huge work, spanning two CDs, consisting of over 100 minutes of improvised music. What is perhaps most remarkable about this recording is that it sounds as though this duo has been together for years. The level of interplay is staggering, seemingly psychic. One musician will offer a phrase, which is then instinctively developed or responded to by the other, and regardless of the context around which the improvisation is centered—be that a mood or a chord progression or a melody— Speake and Maguire appear to have an inexhaustible supply of ideas and conversation pieces. The music itself moves from parts that sometimes suggest some level of through-composition, then out into open territory. There are no "heads" so to speak, instead the direction of each piece is dictated by the content of the first few bars of improvisation.

Recorded at Trinity Laban Conservatoire in December 2016, the sound quality is exquisite, avoiding the emptiness that can often be found in duo recordings, whilst still retaining a feel of space and airiness.

Perhaps its length is its only achilles heel, and for this reason some listeners may prefer to treat it as two albums. However, if one finds oneself with two hours to spare, it is a deeply rewarding experience to dive in and enjoy this work in its entirety, in order to properly appreciate its uniquely absorbing journey and the outstanding abilities of the players.

Track Listing

Majolica; Smooth Your Feathers; Just One Look; Prana; Mellow Eightpence; Six Sisters; Eau De Nil; Different Roads; The Next Stage; Wounded Landscape; Dotties; Invisible Paths; Green Light; Armistice - Sorry Be Me; Pollen; Embrace.


Martin Speake: alto saxophone; Alex Maguire: piano.

Album information

Title: Feathers | Year Released: 2019 | Record Label: Pumpkin Records


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