Universal Connection, Fringe Jazz@Bristol Music Club, Wednesday March 3rd

‘Keeping good company’ is how Jon Turney, previewing last week ahead of the gig, described this latest touring project fronted by Martin Speake. The company lived up to the billing. ‘AC’, as Speake referred to bass man Anders Christensen, spent over a decade working with Paul Motian and Aaron Parks in his own trio and the other Anders, Mogensen on drums, has a CV to die for. The two Danes as a unit were a sublime powerhouse, a fluid, swelling energy animated every piece and seemed to become intense as the gig progressed. Hans Koller, billed as a pianist, seems unable to resist bringing a brass instrument along. Last seen in Bristol playing valve trombone in a Monk project, on this evening he whipped out a euphonium. He did however spend the majority of the evening at the piano.

The music was two full sets of Speake’s compositions, much of it drawn from a recording the band did before the pandemic. Alternating between often lyrical, thoughtful pieces and swinging, angular excursions, a multi-faceted personality emerged for the band. One minute the bluesey, boppish phrases of Level One were hurled out by alto and Koller on that euphonium with a tumbling, loose-limbed swing propelling them on, then an elegant, plaintive melody unfolded on The More Beautiful World Our Hearts Know Is Possible, thoughtful expressive phrases from Koller on piano coalescing into flowing runs, before Speake patiently built a solo that grew imperceptibly into a intense incantation. The second set saw pieces seemingly held together by sighing collective breaths from the band, punctuated again by spiky incursions, Balance like other pieces drawing distant inspiration from Charlie Parker, but remaking it and Koller injecting danger and darkness with a solo of percussive block chords. Secret Wood, a much re-visited Speake piece rounded the set off, it’s off-centre driving riff a platform for impassioned improvisation.

This may be a temporary coming together of musicians, a slightly below the radar European super group perhaps, but there was nothing casual or off-hand about the music-making. There’s a powerful connection between these four and it made for a beautiful evening.

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