Martin Speake

(Ubuntu Music)

Intention marks the first time in more than a decade that British alto saxophonist Martin Speake and American pianist Ethan Iverson have joined forces. In 2004, they released My Ideal (Basho), a bracing duo album of classic ballads. This time around, Speake fronts a supple quartet that also includes bassist Fred Thomas and drummer James Maddren.

Speake and Iverson met in 1990 at Canada’s Banff Centre for the Arts, where they each briefly studied. One of their instructors was Steve Coleman, and listeners can hear a glint of his phrasing in Speakes’ improvisational approach, especially on the slippery “Charlie Wig.” The bandleader’s porous tone and wandering melodicism also strongly evoke Ornette Coleman, as evidenced by the fluttering “Magic Show,” on which Speake and Iverson engage in lines that bray, then intertwine.

The rapport between Speake and Iverson itself is a thing of exquisite beauty. That’s established from the get-go on “Becky,” during which Iverson’s spectral melody gives way to Speake’s wondrous passages. Thomas’ rich arco bass, and Maddren’s rumbling toms and suspended cymbals add gravity and tension, especially as Iverson and Speake’s winsome dialogue gently crests.

The disc reveals Speake’s capricious side, too, particularly on the fanciful “Twister,” where the rhythm section propels the leader’s prancing melody and Iverson’s blues-laden accompaniment with a Crescent City groove.

Intention rewards so much with each repeated listen that one hopes Speake and Iverson will collaborate again, sooner rather than later.

On Sale Now
May 2024
Stefon Harris
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