by Ian Mann
October 15, 2019
"Intelligent, highly personalised music that brings together the best aspects of jazz and traditional Cuban music". Ian Mann enjoys the unique music of trumpeter Loz Speyer's sextet Time Zone.
Loz Speyer’s Time Zone
“Clave Sin Embargo”
(Spherical Records SPR005)
Loz Speyer – trumpet, flugelhorn, Martin Hathaway – alto sax, bass clarinet, Stuart Hall – guitar,
Dave Manington – double bass, Maurizio Ravalico – congas, Andy Ball – drums
“Clave Sin Embargo”, roughly translating as “keys without restrictions”, is the third album by Time Zone, the sextet led by the British trumpeter and composer Loz Speyer. It follows the group’s eponymous 2004 début and 2011’s acclaimed follow up “Crossing The Line”. The latter was an innovative and highly personal recording that skilfully blended elements of European jazz with Cuban music. Review here;
I first became aware of the music of London based Speyer back in 1999 when his quartet featuring guitarist Andy Jones, bassist Richard Jeffries and drummer Tony Bianco played on an open air bandstand at the inaugural Leamington Spa Jazz Festival. I was impressed and purchased a copy of their then latest album “Two Kinds Of Blue” (33 Records), I guess you don’t need me to tell you who one of the prime influences was.
Ten years later I reviewed the excellent album “Five Animal Dances”, recorded by a Speyer led quartet called Inner Space Music featuring Chris Biscoe (reeds), Julie Walkington (double bass) and Sebastian Rochford (drums). This chordless line up explored the interface between composed and improvised music, striking a perfect balance between the two on an album that made for highly satisfying listening. Review here;
In 2017 Speyer followed this with “Life On The Edge”, another excellent recording in a similar vein credited to a quintet dubbed Loz Speyer’s Inner Space. Speyer and Biscoe remained in place, joined in the front line by Rachel Musson on tenor and soprano sax and with a new rhythm section featuring bassist Olie Brice and drummer Gary Willcox. Review here;
The Time Zone project has its roots in Speyer’s domestic circumstances. His wife, Katiuska is Cuban and Speyer has spent the last few years travelling between London and Santiago de Cuba, crossing boundaries but also building bridges between the two countries.
Time Zone is the musical manifestation of this process with Speyer’s London based band incorporating Cuban elements into their jazz based improvising. Speyer’s experiences of working with Son musicians in Santiago led to him forming his own London based ensemble. Time Zone was initially formed in 2003 and the current line up has been in place since 2012.
As with the previous release Speyer’s liner notes offer valuable insights into the inspirations behind the individual compositions, some of these highly personal, others relating to contemporary political events. Time Zone’s music deploys Cuban styles and rhythms, combining these with American and European jazz elements to create a sound that is highly distinctive. This is intelligent, ambitious, highly personalised music that extends far beyond the limits of the “let’s party” fluff that some listeners may associate as being synonymous with Cuban music.
The new album commences with “Stratosphere”, which Speyer describes as being “essentially one harmonic idea played out on three levels – the first close to the ground, a Latin tune with a 12 beat clave – the second, rhythms starting to shift and open up – the third, taking flight on a swing related fast 5/8”. The title comes from a comment made by a Cuban friend about Time Zone’s music, that it has the sound and feel of Cuban music, but instead of being rooted in the soil like the indigenous music of the island it has the ability to fly away elsewhere.
The subtly evolving rhythmic complexities of the piece are successfully negotiated by Manington, Ball and Ravalico while Hall’s guitar is subtly propulsive, helping to prompt incisive jazz style solos from Hathaway on alto and the leader on trumpet. There’s also a feature for the Italian born conganista Ravalico, who represents a vibrant and colourful presence throughout the album.
“Mood Swings” originally appeared on Time Zone’s eponymous 2004 début for 33 Records. Since then it has developed, acquiring new melodies and rhythms, and Speyer has also recorded the tune with Cuban musicians. The 2019 version features Hathaway on woody bass clarinet, soloing above a tricky eleven beat rhythm. The leader also features on trumpet, soloing thoughtfully and fluently above the rhythmic ferment bubbling beneath. There’s also a solo from Hall, a most distinctive guitarist whose quirky style first came to my attention when he was a member of Django Bates’ small group Human Chain. We also enjoy an extended feature from drummer Ball, aided and abetted by guitar, bass and percussion.
“Lost At Sea” combines 6/8 and 4/4 rhythms in unusual ways, the rhythmic changes and sudden accelerations of pace being reminiscent of bata music. The title references Cuban sea goddesses and the migration crises in the English Channel, the Mediterranean, and the seas between Cuba and the US. Yet Speyer still finds hope in all this, dedicating the tune to a woman whose parents found their way to the UK following the devastation of World War Two.
Musically the piece is played with feeling and urgency, the constantly mutating rhythms again provoking an incisive solo from Hathaway on biting alto, his tone sometimes reminiscent of Jackie McLean, or even Ornette Coleman. A brief passage of unaccompanied trumpet seems to act as a ‘last post’ for those desperate migrants lost at sea, and acts as the bridge into Speyer’s own solo during the very different second half of the tune.
In Speyer’s words “Full Circle” “closes the first half of the album on a peaceful note”. There’s a more laid back, orthodox jazz feel to this piece with Ball switching to brushes as Hathaway’s alto probes gently but intelligently. Hall’s guitar solo represents another excellent example of his idiosyncratic style, a kind of Anglicised, highly personalised version of Bill Frisell.
The title of “Checkpoint Charlie” references Speyer’s visit to Berlin in 1989, around the time that the wall came down. It’s also inspired by an incident in Cuba in 1980 when 10,000 dissidents occupied the grounds of the Peruvian embassy in Havana, demanding asylum. The Peruvians agreed to this, but ultimately couldn’t cope with the demand. Following urgent negotiations 125,000 Cubans eventually became US citizens following the Mariel Boatlift.
Speyer describes his tune as “cheerful” and there’s a palpable joyousness in the infectious rhythms, punchy horn lines and the ebullient solos from Speyer on trumpet and Hathaway on alto, the latter again probing incisively. Hall also adds more of his quirky magic with an inspired guitar solo.
“Guarapachanguero” is the name of a long, stretched out rhythm that Speyer learned from a Cuban musician known as Manolo (aka Rafael Cisneros), with whom he studied percussion and co-led the band Proyecto Evocacion, releasing the album “Roots en Route – Raices en Viaje” in 2010.
Speyer’s tune offers “a relatively slow take on the rhythm and is the only piece on the album that stays in clave throughout”. Despite the alleged ‘slowness’ the piece is hardly lacking in energy and conganista Ravalico plays a prominent part in an arrangement that features more fluent soloing from Hathaway on alto, Speyer on trumpet, Hall on guitar and the excellent Manington on double bass.
“Crossing The Line” is named after the second Time Zone album, although the piece didn’t actually appear on there. Speyer’s composition alternates between jazz and Cuban styles, but in this instance without making any attempt to fuse the two. “They remain separate and distinct, and yet it is all one piece of music” explains Speyer, who goes on to emphasise that “the boundaries by which we measure the world are largely artificial constructs, the equator, time zones, the Greenwich Meridian, even time itself”.
An introductory free jazz dialogue between Hathaway’s alto and Hall’s guitar segues into an almost exaggeratedly Cuban section featuring Speyer’s trumpet soloing. The second free jazz episode finds Ball joining Hall and Hathaway for a more extended improvisation prior to a return to the Cuban stylings, with Manington’s bass featuring as a solo instrument.
The album concludes with “Dalston Carnival”, a paean to Speyer’s North London neighbourhood. He describes the piece as “a dance, a kind of Punk-Comparsa, complete with the odd 2/4 bar, courtesy of Ornette Coleman”. There is indeed a genuine carnival atmosphere about this high energy romp with its busily percolating rhythms and joyous solos, Speyer going first on trumpet, followed by Hathaway on alto and Hall on guitar. There’s also an extended percussion ‘battle’ between Ravalico and Ball as the album concludes on an ebullient, celebratory note. Coleman notwithstanding, this is the kind of lively, salsa style music that most listeners probably associate with Cuba, but as Speyer and his colleagues demonstrate elsewhere there’s far more about the island’s music than that.
“Clave Sin Embargo” builds upon the virtues of Time Zone’s previous releases to deliver another set of intelligent, highly personalised music that brings together the best aspects of jazz and traditional Cuban music. Speyer’s sound is forged from a unique personal perspective and his Anglo-Cuban musical hybrid offers something that is both exciting and musically satisfying. His writing is colourful and insightful and the playing by a hand picked sextet is excellent throughout.
Given the title of the closing track it is perhaps appropriate that the album will be officially launched at The Vortex Jazz Club in Dalston, London on the evening of Wednesday October 16th 2019. Time Zone will also be playing at Colchester Arts centre on December 1st 2019.
Meanwhile Speyer’s Inner Space will be appearing at the Grow venue in East London on the afternoon of Sunday November 17th as part of the 2019 EFG London Jazz Festival. Details here;