Change of Heart
Martin Speake alto saxophone
Bobo Stenson piano
Mick Hutton bass
Paul Motian drums
Recorded April 2002 at Rainbow Studio, Oslo
Engineer: Jan Erik Kongshaug
Produced by Manfred Eicher
Saxophonist Martin Speake makes his first—and so far only—ECM appearance in a dream quartet rounded out by pianist Bobo Stenson, bassist Mick Hutton (who debuted for the label with another English reedman, Ken Stubbs, on Eréndira), and drummer Paul Motian. The group’s account of eight Speake originals is as poetic as his titles.
Being made aware of the river that is “The Healing Power of Intimacy” as if we’d already had a toe in its waters is a startling way to introduce us to the session’s flow. Speake’s free-blowing ways fill the covers of Lee Konitz’s signature sweetness with pages all his own, on each of which is written a day in the life of a melodic sage. In the latter sense, we might also reference Charles Lloyd, whose tender drive seems to lurk in the altoist’s dream-weaving. Stenson offers some of his loveliest improvisatory reparations ever committed to disc as sideman. In this regard, the title track shuffles its feet by candlelight, in the soft illumination of which Speake puts pen to paper and lets the muses sing.
Hutton and Motian play catch and release throughout the set, gelling rather swingingly on “Barefaced Thieves” and spreading their fingers wider on “Venn,” into which Stenson and Speake interlace their own. The latter cut contains top-flight thematizing and shows the band at its most aligned. Speake’s golden hour comes in “Buried Somewhere.” This balladic tour de force casts its spell without thinking, lures the muses closer and grazes their palms with methodical freedom.
The rhythm section’s tailwind is that of a comet: vivid yet distant enough to seem frozen in time. And on the question of time, “In the Moment” has much to say. Its sweep is generous, allowing each member’s breath to circulate in the warmth of elegy. Here the flame flickers, never losing hold of its wick. Motian’s charcoal turns to pastel in “Three Hours” with no loss of blend. The steadiness of this tune gives it arms with which to hug, legs with which to move, and a mind with which to lower the cerebral to relatable levels. Listeners can appreciate the respect of this move, hard to come by in a sometimes far too intellectual business. All of which might help to explain why the album ends “In Code”—not for want of secrecy but for honesty of message. Encryptions take place at the very moment of creation. And even as Speake’s alto careens across the night, we can be sure that its soul will stay behind, awaiting further instructions.