Loz Speyer, trumpet and flugelhorn
Chris Biscoe, alto sax and alto clarinet
Rachel Musson, tenor sax
Ollie Brice, bass
Gary Wilcox, drums
A pianoless quintet poses some interesting writing, arranging and performing challenges. Maintaining the momentum and vitality of the songs without relying on continuous front-line playing or leaning too heavily on bass and drums means that the work has to be divided up in ways which are themselves creative tasks. And then there’s the challenge of escaping the long shadow of Ornette Coleman. Loz Speyer’s quintet met all of these tests with confidence and gusto, delivering wonderfully varied music across both sets.
Loz Speyer’s own playing was in the lead in both senses—sure-footed, bright-toned and always probing, pushing the melodic and rhythmic boundaries (as well as his fellow musicians.) And the many ways in which his trumpet combined with the two saxophones provided the kinds of lift, support and forward drive that would have left little room for a piano.
The band had a good line in simple, sometimes rather oblique and angular motifs which provided the basis for development and improvisation. Rachel Musson and Chris Biscoe were a study in contrasts, Rachel’s frequently raw, bluesy tenor contrasting with Chris Biscoe’s long, fluid alto lines. But just at the moment when each seemed to have been fitted into a neat category, they would show their versatility; or Chris would switch to alto clarinet, providing arresting tonal colour to the group’s sound.
Ollie Brice’s bass was not only very ‘forward’—he was neatly poised between the bass player’s usual role and being a member of the front line. It was a source of pleasure to note how he moved with such ease between those two roles, to say nothing of the power of his deeply resonant playing. And Gary Wilcox ensured the rhythmic pace with a drumming style that might best be described as ‘roiling’—energetic, but tasteful and never intrusive.
The musical interest was heightened by the quality of Loz Speyer’s own compositions—together with an experimental group improvisation. And the evening finished on a joyous dedication to that generation of London-based South African musicians who enlivened the UK jazz scene in the 1980s—a raucous, swinging, utterly delightful dollop of township jazz. It was a triumphant note on which to finish.