Speak is a 5-piece band that plays creative instrumental music drawing on a wide variety of influences. Some of the members, like Chris Icasiano and Luke Bergman, I’ve mentioned in this blog before from their work with other groups like Bad Luck and Motorist, and I work with Aaron Otheim in Hardcoretet. I’ve known saxophonist Andrew Swanson for several years, the same amount of time as the rest of the guys mentioned above.
I realized that it was quite difficult for me to talk about the music and the band in a satisfying way, so I went to Aaron for help. After all, if I wanted to put out a truly accurate description of Speak, why not go to the source?
As Aaron tells it: “I think it’d be good to mention that Speak began as a straight-ahead-sounding jazz group that was originally Andrew, Chris, Luke and me, but that our sound evolved to incorporate elements of classical music and rock – the music each of us grew up playing and listening to. This shift in sound was definitely strengthened when Cuong Vu joined the band as his musical aesthetic and playing style reflect a similar trajectory.”
Before Cuong Vu began teaching at the University of Washington and playing with the group, he had already become fairly well known in creative music circles. The Trio had come to Seattle a couple of times, including a show at the Tractor featuring Bill Frisell that saxophonist Stuart McDonald told me was one of the best shows he had seen in a long time, and Vu had begun touring with Pat Metheny. So it was very exciting to hear that he would be teaching in town, and then even more exciting when he started playing with Speak. The result of the year or so that the quartet had put in combined with this later collaboration that has now been going on for longer than that has resulted in the band’s self-titled debut CD, available here. Aaron went on to talk a little bit more specifically about the music:
“Another important component: most of the “solos sections” actually consist of collective improvisation, meaning that everyone is improvising together… no real soloists. The heads of the tunes themselves all have very specific parts worked out, however, much more akin to a classical composition or the way a rock band might rehearse. This provides a very strong structure that frames each improvisation, giving us a clear focus on where the improvisation should go, but not necessarily how it should sound.”
The CD release show and the album itself put all of these concepts on display, moving from sections of pointillistic modern classical music to free improvisation to experimentation with electronic sounds and the layering of indie-rock.
Speak will get a chance to showcase their sound outside of the Northwest soon, at performances in Colorado, the Stone in New York and the Saalfelden Jazz Festival in Salzburg, Austria.