Martin Speake International Quartet, Dorking

Ian Mellor reviews the saxophonist's small band at the Watermill

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During the interval, in the comfortable, lively clubhouse bar and restaurant, US piano genius Ethan Iverson told me he was looking forward to the next day when he could search Dorking for the statue of Ralph Vaughan Williams which stands near the entrance to the popular local concert hall. “I believe he used to live near here. His sound inspired Wayne Shorter and still has a powerful, classical influence on my own music, especially his Lark Ascending”.

Earlier, as leader Martin Speake’s complex yet always accessible, fascinating compositions took over the room, many in the audience were clearly entranced, listening with eyes closed to the haunting, hypnotic and indeed classical ambience of the quartet … not just one, but four larks ascending, all on their own flight path but never losing sight nor sound of each other. Often dissonant, free yet intensely melodic. “Jazz”, said Ethan, “is the classical music of America”.

The gig, at the Watermill Club (now in its 25th year), was one of 17 on consecutive days during the band’s tour of the UK plus a night in Switzerland. “We’ve known each other for years”, said drummer Jorge Rossy but this is the first time the four of us have toured together. It’s working really well, right from the beginning”.

The club is a popular venue for leading-edge jazz musicians mainly from the UK, the US and Europe, playing to enthusiastic, regular crowds of fans on Tuesday evenings every week of the year except in December. “The acoustics here are fantastic”, said Martin, “absolutely right for our sound”.

Just before the tenth and final piece, Martin had reminded us that 2020 is the centenary of the birth of Charlie “Bird” Parker. “He changed the course of music”, said Martin as the quartet began the rarely heard Parker tune My Heart Tells Me (Should I Believe My Heart?). It was as if Bird himself was in the room … another Bird, forever ascending.

Martin Speake International Quartet: Speake (as); Ethan Iverson (p); Calum Gourlay (b); Jorge Rossy (d). Watermill Jazz Club, Dorking, Surrey. Tuesday 18th Februrary 2020.