Martin Speake/ Bobo Stenson, Colston Hall – Lantern, Tuesday 26th April

bobocolston2Bobo Stenson is a unique and quietly influential figure.  The Swedish pianist’s many sideman gigs with horn players have included  Jan Garbarek on some of the earliest ECM recordings and a series of Charles Lloyd releases. His distinctive, poetic sound and viscerally rhythmic  touch have most often been heard in recent years in the context of his own, telepathically sympathetic trio . His partnership with serial collaborator Martin Speake however, is an enduring one and he’s been coming to UK for short tours at regular, if not frequent intervals since their first hook-up, which led to an ECM recording with Paul Motion on drums finally released a decade ago now. The first gig  on the current tour at Colston Hall’s  Lantern was a thrilling demonstration of what is special about their collaboration.

The quartet was completed by Conor Chaplin on bass and James Maddren on drums and not only was it the first gig of the tour, but also the first time the four had performed together. It meant one of the pleasures of the evening was watching the band begin to breathe together. Early in the first set a Speake original, with a simple pretty tune, provided a platform for Stenson to develop a fiercely driving solo and by the time they band were vamping out over the theme, Chaplin and Stenson were locked together with a little rhythmic kick they appeared to find together.  In the second set, Folk Song for Paul featured an extended introduction from the piano, the rhythmic pulse of the theme seeming just to condense from the atmosphere and a quintessential Stenson solo followed, full of rippling, melodic lines, hesitations and distortions of the time. James Maddren seemed to be inside his mind by this point, following every feint and flurry.

The gig had been billed as the quartet playing music from the ECM release Change of Heart. 2016-04-26 20.06.32It was nothing of the sort of course. Speake’s prolific composing output and insatiable musical curiosity meant that we were treated to a mixture of his finely crafted, frequently yearning and reflective compositions, a tune of literally medieval provencance,  arrangements of a Puccini theme (O mio babbino caro) and a Frederico Mompou compostion (Cancon is danse No. 6).  A dip into Charlie Parker’s oeuvre had Bobo deconstructing Be-bop on Charlie’s Wig and they closed on a wryly understated reading of Some Enchanted Evening.

Speake’s own sound has a distilled quality to it, crystal clear and solos developing extended ideas and occasionally erupting into passionate flurries and squeals of emotion.  Chaplin and Maddren may have been less to the fore in this gig, but they had their moments in the spotlight and the responsiveness of the band to each other breathed vital life into the set.

The expression of pleasure and joy through a slightly melancholy tinged reflectiveness is sometimes characterised as typically nordic, Swedish ‘vemod’. To my ears, there is something of this in Speake’s music.  Its better expressed through music than words (perhaps illustrated by the last sentence!) and was threaded through this performance.   Who better to play this with him than the Swedish master.  I  left uplifted and just a bit inspired.

They are on the second of a two night residency at London’s Vortex tonight, not to be missed if you are nearby.

 

 

 

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In praise of Bobo ….. and micro gigs

Bobo is coboboming! In the new year, Martin Speake is touring his Change of Heart Quartet. I’m excited – this has sparked off two parallel trains of thought. One is a bit of a meditation on why I love the playing of Swedish pianist Bobo Stenson. The other is the experience of being part of a very small audience at a jazz gig. To deal with the second of these here’s why I thought of it. Back in 2001, I heard that Martin Speake was performing in Bristol with a Quartet he was calling his International Quartet. It consisted of Martin (!), Mick Hutton on bass, Bobo on piano and the legendary Paul Motian on drums. Wow – unmissable surely. So along I went to a little theatre attached to a school (very nice venue… but slightly weird place to find this band), saw my mate Trevor there and about 10 other people. And that was it. So this extraordinary collection of musicians played for us. What a strange gig. If I’m honest what I remember most is Paul Motion telling jokes about tomoatoes (I can’t remember the punch line though). This band then recorded for ECM (at the Rainbow studios) and the album was released as Change of Heart in 2006. Martin and Bobo are back in Bristol in February (http://www.stgeorgesbristol.co.uk/event.php?pid=544, http://www.martinspeake.co.uk/),  playing this music but this time with Jeff Williams on drums and Steve Watts on bass – I’ll be there. That was not the only time I’ve seen worl class musicians playing to tiny audiences; Dave Douglas’ Magic Triangle Quartet playing to 17 people at Sweet Basil in New York; Geri Allen and Buster Williams playing to around 20 in the Village Vanguard (I just had to count) – a bit horrifying, but amazing to be there.

And so – why do I love Bobo? I’ve had my ipod on perma shuffle recently, and every so often a piece starts. There will be a ringing resonant chord, a gentle pulse from the drums, a fluttering run on the piano and a delicate melody emerges. ‘What’s that?’ I think – of course its Bobo, from a few different albums; Serenity under his own name; Leosia, or Litania with Tomas Stanko; War Orphans again under his own name. There’s often something really groovy about it, mixed with a really strong melodic sense – its often not swinging, but its deeply jazzy. I first really noticed him on a Charles Lloyd album, Canto and have rather randomly explored his other recordings from then on.  For me, he rarely fails to delight. http://www.myspace.com/bobostenson