“Speake is a strikingly talented improviser with a seemingly bottomless well of inspiration.” - Encyclopedia of Popular Music
“An alto saxophonist who sounds only like himself.”
Dave Gelly - The Observer
“A saxophonist with an unusual turn of phrase, a persuasively gentle sound and jazz allegiances that don’t follow the usual Coltranesque paths but veer instead toward the fifties Cool School, Martin Speake is not just a distinctive improviser but a striking composer too. Superficially, Speake can sometimes seem cool to the point of chilliness - but like his original inspirations, the heat is all in the logic and integrity of the lines, the balance of mind and heart.”
John Fordham - The Guardian
“One of the most original and interesting contemporary jazz saxophonists on the British scene. Speake has an offbeat melodic sense, a fine gentle tone and a strong technique.”
Linton Chiswick - Time Out
”Think of Chet Baker, Lee Konitz, Jimmy Giuffre, or our own Bobby Wellins, Tony Coe or Martin Speake - all Emily Dickinson lyric poets.”
Phil Johnson - The Independent
REVIEWS OF ALWAYS A FIRST TIME
I can’t fault this, on any level. It’s intelligent, searching modern jazz with a clear imaginative vision, generously proportioned but not a moment too long and it delivers new sensations with each return.
Brian Morton - Jazz Journal
This unconventional trio of improvisers displays patience and vision to create music, which is complex, unhurried, diverse and not afraid of silence and space. More listens are required to fully recognise the wide palette of moods to be appreciated on this large-scale canvas.
Laurence Jones - The Jazz Breakfast
The alto saxophonist’s already substantial body of recordings is greatly enhanced by this double CD, recorded with friends and musical colleagues Mike Outram, on guitar, and Jeff Williams, drums. All the songs, old and new, are dedicated to friends, family or those who inspired him with particularly touching versions of Where Are You?, If I Loved You and O Mio Babbino Caro set against livelier songs like Tom and Twister. Highly recommended.
Northern Echo – Peter Bevan
Speake remains a valued but rather underrated presence in the UK jazz scene – he doesn’t make the kind of music that is going to sell in barrowloads or catch the attention of the style media. His hallmarks are intricate, honest musicianship and a strong personal vision of where he wants go, and he has ideal companions for the journey here.
The Scotsman – Kenny Mathieson
Here, the under-rated UK saxophonist Martin Speake gets into some intense three-cornered conversations with guitarist Mike Outram and drummer Jeff Williams, and the result is one of Speake’s most personal and revealing recordings to date. Most of the material on the two discs is original, but it’s the few standards that tell all. Bewitched Bothered and Bewildered in particular pays explicit homage to Motian’s trio, and also admits Speake’s debt to the great altoist Lee Konitz. Both men share an almost wilful refusal to play the obvious, and the results, while not always pretty, are fresh and honest.
The Irish Times - Cormac Larkin
REVIEWS OF CHANGE OF HEART
Change of Heart makes a compelling case that Martin Speake is one of the most interesting and rewarding alto saxophonists now playing jazz on any continent - Thomas Conrad, Jazz Times
Change of Heart is one of those jazz records that is at once accessible, clear and limpid. However, it also is a place of secrets, shadows, and labyrinthine gestures that are only uncovered with repeated listening. Thom Jurek, All Music Guide
There is a fragile beauty to the way this music hangs together. You cannot help but wonder at the sheer craftsmanship that made it possible. Stuart Nicholson, Observer Music Monthly
Simple directness, overtly beautiful, cool and compact: just wonderful. Budd Kopmann All About Jazz
Speake’s playing can be as enigmatic as his writing. The lyricism and subtlety of both his written and improvised melodies sometimes unfold so gradually that one needs to take a mental step back to absorb it all. That characteristic well suits the strength in understated elegance that marks Change of Heart—a fine album that, by revealing more with each successive listen, will undoubtedly stand the test of time - John Kelman, All About Jazz
This is surely Martin Speake’s finest album to date. There’s a warm, reflective and ambient feeling to the record that draws listeners into the musicians’ space and holds them suspended in that world. A real and lasting achievement. Duncan Heining - Jazzwise
Clearly inspired by the acutely sensitive, flexible, utterly sympathetic and mutually supportive rhythm section, Speake, who wrote all the originals, is in arresting form; wholly individual and innocent of cliché, his work is remarkable for its consistency of invention. One of the cd’s of the year. Ray Comiskey, Irish Times
REVIEWS OF TWO NOT ONE
Speake and Oxley play with a flawless sense of logic, constructing phrases that are easy on the ear, but they never once drift into easy listening or smooth jazz territories.
John Eyles - BBC Review
Martin Speake's alto saxophone tone is such a beautiful thing in itself, pure and limpid, that it would be possible to float off on it without noticing what he was actually playing. This would be a pity, because his improvised lines are full of ideas and unemphatic elegance. Colin Oxley, best known for his long tenure as Stacey Kent's guitarist, makes the best possible partner, providing rich, subtle harmonies and discreet but firm rhythmic support. Outstanding in a mixed programme of originals and well-chosen standards is a marvellous two-part invention on a blues by Lester Young. Dave Gelly The Observer
Colin Oxley’s thoughtful guitar provides delightful settings for the aerated, imaginative alto sax of Martin Speake. The sparse soundscape focuses attention on Speake’s witty lines as he weaves through an agreeable set of warhorses (Besame Mucho, I Found A New Baby), variations on established sequences (Coleman Hawkins, I’ll Never Forget You) and tricky Lennie Tristano tunes - Chris Ingham Mojo
REVIEWS OF GENERATIONS
British altoist Martin Speake isn't as well-known as he ought to be, but he may well be the clearest successor to the unadorned, warm-toned approach of the legendary Lee Konitz.
Generations is a decidedly mainstream effort for Speake, but as ever he's still finding subtle ways to push the envelope. The material may be familiar, but the approaches are new, making Generations an appealing disc that's never short on substance.
John Kelman, All About Jazz
Lee Konitz, the Cool Jazz poet of low-key saxophone freebop, is still going strong at 80 (the Chicagoan is at the Glasgow jazz festival this Sunday), but British alto-saxist Martin Speake is one of his most accomplished contemporaries. Like Konitz, Speake is as comfortable with all-out improv as he is with conventional playing. He pursued the former on his first release, Spark, for his own Pumpkin label last year. For the follow-up he investigates the latter, in a bespoke band for the job featuring UK-resident American drummer Jeff Williams, young pianist Barry Green and bassist Dave Green (no relation). The pianist can effortlessly sustain a graceful Bill Evans-like lyrical swing, but also massages the ideas of the others. His contemporary references give him a broad sweep, and he has much to do with this set's freedom from bop-standard rigidities. Speake barely breathes on the theme of I'm a Fool to Want You against Williams' cool Latin brushwork and light bass drum, and does the same against Barry Green's treble musings (turning increasingly into groovier Mehldau-like promptings) on I Wish I Knew and an almost motionless All the Way. The pianist wraps a light tracery around Speake against ringing cymbal and thumping keynotes on Jitterbug Waltz, and then plays a pungent solo, and the bop classic Donna Lee starts as a private reflection, and gets positively raucous before sax and piano share a spiky dialogue.
John Fordham-The Guardian
REVIEWS OF SPARK
While the term “spontaneous composition” is often overused and abused, it’s a fitting description for this music. The late Steve Lacy is quoted in the liner notes, saying “The difference between composition and improvisation is that in composition you have all the time you want to decide what to say in fifteen seconds, while in improvisation you have fifteen seconds.” Spark demonstrates, in the most approachable of fashions, that it’s possible to create music in real time that feels like it comes from much greater consideration and forethought.
John Kelman All About Jazz
Speake will surprise some of his regular listeners with the spikiness of his playing on these nine tracks, and with the shift of his cool demeanour to a music of startling zigzags and brittle, edgy phrasing. This is no implacably hardline improv session, however. Speake slides into whimsically cruising motif-playing, his slow musing warm and evocative (with sometimes over atmospheric toms rumbles from Sanders), and the extent to which he avoids repetition confirms how steadily he continues to evolve.
John Fordham The Guardian
I’m inclined to believe Martin Speake could never make an unlovely record, so lithe and clear is his tone and so obvious his melodic gift. That goes whether he’s playing straightahead, world music, modal jazz or whether, as here, he’s improvising freely.
Duncan Heining Jazzwise
REVIEWS OF LIVE AT RIVERHOUSE
Speake, a unique, subtle altoist who counts Konitz and the Colemans, Ornette and Steve, as influences, is an outside-the-box thinker, but he has addressed standards before, memorably on 2007’s Generations with this Barry Green-Dave Green-Jeff Williams rhythm section. They come close to that level with another batch of music of the ancients. Subversion is not the aim, although there’s a gentle send-up in their fun romp through I Love You ; the approach of an exceptional group of uncategorisable players is to treat things as serious vehicles for improvisation. It yields some unlikely gems in the gravely eloquent mix of rubato freedom and easy swing that illuminates Strangers in the Night , in a euphorically grooving When You’re Smiling and the elegant jostling of Smoke Gets in Your Eyes. Throughout, Speake is a marvel of quiet originality and lyrical lucidity.
Ray Comiskey –Irish Times
Some musicians make fun of corny standards. Alto saxophonist Martin Speake loves them. This second disc by his ultra-sensitive "Generations" quartet takes a number of crusty old friends and creates something new and experimental while still allowing their mothers to recognise them. Bassist Dave Green's introduction to "When You're Smiling" is sly and joyful, while the terrific Jeff Williams reinvents the lost art of bebop drumming on George Shearing's "Conception". Phil Johnson-Independent on Sunday
Speake's supple, cool-toned alto and his quartet with pianist Barry Green and the rhythm section of bassist Dave Green and drummer Jeff Williams combine to bring an understated subtlety and intelligence to the music, using the natural acoustic of the Riverhouse Barn in Surrey to good effect. Kenny Mathieson –The Scotsman
Alto saxophonist Martin Speake has produced a wide body of work on CD in recent years and this one ranks with his very best. With the finest of support from pianist Barry Green, bass player Dave Green and drummer Jeff Williams, he presents a new slant on standards like Smile, Conception and even Strangers in the Night. Peter Bevan- Northern Echo
Altoist Martin Speake has always occupied the poised, thoughtful, elegant -– even cerebral -– end of the jazz spectrum, and this band (previously heard on 2007's Generations) specialises in intelligent, subtle arrangements of standards. Pianist Green is equally adept at unobtrusive accompaniment and more pungent, unexpectedly spiky solos; bassist Green (no relation) is simply his peerless self throughout, particularly effective at stating melodies (his intro to 'When You're Smiling' a small gem); Williams is tastefully restrained but propulsive. It is Speake, however, who most frequently draws the ear, his apparent 'cool' concealing considerable depths, both emotional and musical, and this is a worthy addition to his now gratifyingly weighty discography.
It’s a set of standards but, by using unusual keys and the odd compositional twist, Speake transforms these warhorses into lean, mean fighting machines. With a superb rhythm section of Barry Green on piano and Dave Green (no relation!) and Jeff Williams on bass and drums, this is an album of subtlety and emotional force. More than that, Speake’s tone - as ever - is simply glorious. Duncan Heining-Jazz UK
This is a follow-up to the Generations album that alto-saxophonist Martin Speake made in 2008, with the piano-bass pairing of Barry and Dave Green (unrelated), and drummer Jeff Williams. Recorded live at Surrey's Riverhouse Barn with meticulous attention to natural acoustics, it visits evergreens such as Smoke Gets in Your Eyes, 'Round Midnight and Strangers in the Night. Speake is superb at this level-headed, tonally pristine 1950s west coast style, and the group is right there with him – from Dave Green's thematic fills, to Barry Green's prodding suggestions at the piano (he plays here more like an urgent bebop pianist in a 40s Charlie Parker group than a 50s cool-jazz one), to Jeff Williams's understated intensity. Speake's alto drifts across a piano ripple after the graceful bass intro to When You're Smiling, 'Round Midnight is patiently expanded with the melody always hovering close, the piano is Monkish on Smoke Gets in Your Eyes, and an almost-remote Strangers in the Night captures a kind of anxious hope in the song. Perhaps this is a set for specialists, but it's full of musicality and craft. John Fordham- The Guardian
REVIEWS OF SECRET
Secret is an album of jazz of a very high order from a group that puts to shame many much-hyped American bands. Andrew Vine - Yorkshire Post
Such an assured, absorbing set of music that it compels the listener whatever the tempo. Chris Sheridan - Jazz Review
Modest little gem of intelligent but highly approachable small-band music. Dave Gelly -The Observer
Martin Speake plays some of the most gorgeous alto sax sounds in contemporary jazz…What is most impressive about the album is how four members of this brand new partnership are so finely attuned to each other's musical minds and nimble fingers. Phil Ehrensaft - The Whole Note.
An album equally strong on melody and harmony, rhythmic intricacies and broadly phrased beautifully "breathing" passages…..spacious cross-rhythms and purposive drive, distilled reflection and cooking swing distinguish this excellent, superbly recorded release. Michael Tucker -Jazz Journal
REVIEWS OF BLOOR STREET
Nine originals with an undeniable warmth and quality from four much respected jazz musicians. Drummer Magazine
A work of classic, tradition-infused acoustic jazz. Jazzwise"It has been almost a decade since the Secret Quartet made their first recording, but they have reconvened in glorious fashion on this intelligent, beautifully crafted follow-up. Speake's purity of tone and fertile invention on alto is a constant pleasure, and Iles is equally resourceful in her lyrical but tough-minded explorations at the keyboard. Edition Records are making a serious impact on UK jazz, and their studio recording here is exceptionally vivid". Scotsman"All the delicacy and lyricism one would expect from an album featuring Speake and Iles is here in abundance. An excellent acoustic jazz album". The Jazz Mann
"This music is poised, affecting, immediately accessible and classy, concealing considerable power in a deceptively winsome package. Both Iles and Speake are compelling, resourceful soloists, and the Canadian rhythm section display hair-trigger sensitivity throughout a pleasingly varied programme; this is not only yet another excellent album from Edition but also a perfect demonstration of the quiet strength of two of the UK's most accomplished musicians. Recommended". Vortex Jazz
REVIEWS OF CHARLIE PARKER
Though both alto saxophone players, temperamentally Martin Speake and Charlie Parker would appear to be polar opposites. The legendary bop genius was all passion and virtuosic sizzle, while Speake has built his reputation on a cooler cerebral approach that on the surface has more in common with Lee Konitz and Paul Desmond. But that stylistic disparity is what makes this album so compelling. Apparently the result of late-onset obsession,this is Parker obliquely flitered through Speake’s musical prism - lots of implication, space and witty interplay with guitarist Mike Outram - to become something entirely unique. Abundant Parker references will keep Bird spotters happy, but the imaginative, artful anti-bop treatments and the superb band also impress. Highlights include Embrace Me, Speake’s reworking of Embraceable You (with original outro) and the sprawling contrapuntal improvisation with Outram which eventually coalesces into a single chorus of Donna Lee.
British saxophonist Martin Speake, with the repertoire he's touring through the UK. For a talented modern altoist, Speake was a late convert to the full impact of bebop sax revolutionary Charlie Parker's music - and when its wider import recently staggered him, he decided that the best thing to do was not to cover the uncoverable but express his gratitude his own way.
This is often a delightful album, superbly played by Speake and guitar star Mike Outram and with imaginative bass-and-drums support from Simon Thorpe and Dave Wickins. Instead of opening with the usual headlong Parkeresque double-time, the album begins with almost abstract guitar-strumming and floating free-drumming to underpin Don't Blame Me. Donna Lee turns into a bristling improvised counterpoint for Speake and Outram, and Speake's restrained style brings the wispy subtleties of Parker's 1950s Cool School disciples back to the original materials.
An unaccompanied Speake improvisation on Yardbird, touching on Parker's phrases as if they were photos glimpsed while flicking through a scrapbook, is both a heartfelt and honourable finale.
John Fordham-The Guardian
It is 50 years since jazz music’s most influential soloist died in the Manhattan apartment of Baroness Pannonica de Koenigswarter. Yet his influence remains strong on young players such as the superb British saxophonist Martin Speake. The influence is not always obvious on this album. Although Speake covers some classic Parker numbers here (such as ‘Crazeology’ and ‘My Old Flame’) his tribute to Bird comes over not so much as a recreation of the music – more a personal reflection on the great man’s work. Indeed, Speake’s tone and technique is well removed from Parker’s. Where Parker played like a force of nature, Speake is more the reserved intellectual; where Parker’s sound was cutting, almost abrasive, Speake’s is sweetly engaging. With the alto at the centre of attention, the pretty arrangements are handled lightly but attentively by the rhythm section. Mike Outram’s fleet solo guitar runs are likewise a perfect complement to the leader’s intricate ruminations. A worthy tribute. Garry Booth - BBC Music Magazine
With this year marking the 50th anniversary of saxophonist Charlie Parker's death, all manner of tributes are likely to crop up. Italian saxophonist Stefano di Battista has already released the reverent Parker's Mood. But when British saxophonist Martin Speake spoke in an interview last year of doing a Parker tribute, given his proclivity for placing a more personal stamp on his projects—as evidenced by Exploring Standards' refashioning of well-heeled tunes into brief miniatures of remarkable depth—one could be certain that an homage from Speake would steadfastly avoid the obvious. And, true enough, while Charlie Parker is an album inspired by the music of Parker, it's anything but a literal interpretation.
On a programme that mixes tunes written or often interpreted by Parker with a handful of Speake originals, Speake has assembled an unusual quartet. Eschewing the more traditional piano/bass/drums rhythm section, Speake instead supplements bassist Simon Thorpe and drummer Dave Wickins with guitarist Mick Outram—a player who has been associated with him for the past few years.
The opening notes of "Don't Blame Me herald that this will be no straight-ahead bebop session. If there's any precedence for the elastic time sense here, it's in the work of drummer Paul Motian's longstanding trio with saxophonist Joe Lovano and guitarist Bill Frisell. Wickins, while possessing a stronger disposition to defined time, is nevertheless a colourist like Motian, with especially evocative playing on the gentle "I'm in the Mood for Love.
Parker's "Diverse, instead of being a high energy bebop tune, is taken at a more relaxed pace, with Thorpe's melodic solo over Wickins' brushes introducing the track, before Speake and Outram enter with the familiar theme. As always, Speake solos with a lyricism and economy that is diametrically opposed to Parker's more virtuoso style, but he manages to capture the essence of Bird without imitation.
"Donna Lee begins with Speake alone. Outram, Thorpe, and Wickins enter one at a time, building a freely improvised kind of counterpoint until the quartet finally comes together for the almost iconic theme.
For the most part, Speake and the group avoid the typical bebop theme/round of solos/theme format. Instead, one is just as apt to find the group in a collective improvising mode, loosely interpreting a familiar theme, as they do on the gentle rubato opening of "I'm in the Mood for Love and the equally openended "My Old Flame. Along with Speake, Outram is one of those well-kept British secrets that deserve broader exposure in North America. He understands the tradition, but brings to it a more modern approach that includes more open harmonic voicings and a linear approach that alludes to but expands on, rather than imitating, the bebop mold.
By not treating its source as an immovable museum piece, Charlie Parker is the best kind of tribute—one that views the music as a living, breathing entity. Speake may look back in fondness, but his quartet's interpretations look forward with anticipation and the excitement of new discovery.
John Kelman, All About Jazz