Martin Speake – Saxophone
Hans Koller – Euphonium/Piano
Jeff Williams – Drums
Michael Shrimpling – bass
Thelonious formed in 2015 to study and play the music of one of the 20th century’s greatest composers. Saxophonist Martin Speake, Euphonium/Piano Hans Koller and Calum Gourlay on double bass, spent 3 years leading up to Monk’s centennial year (2017) learning all his compositions and studying his music. It was at their monthly residency downstairs at The Vortex where they began to present their take on Monk for his second century. Playing stripped down versions focusing on the strong sometimes beautiful sometimes angular melodies of Thelonious Monk. Joined tonight by leading US drummer Jeff Williams with Michael Shrimpling replacing Calum Gourlay
Martin Speake – Citing Charlie Parker, Paul Motian, Lee Konitz, Keith Jarrett, Ornette Coleman and Rabih Abou Khalil amongst his major influences, Martin Speake has developed a personal musical voice that expresses a deep understanding of the history and language of Jazz and an individuality as an improviser that is intelligent, melodic, cool, complex, direct, beautiful and profound.
A member of the saxophone quartet Itchy Fingers in the 80s, he has recorded 18 albums as leader including the internationally acclaimed ECM release Change Of Heart with Paul Motian, Bobo Stenson and Mick Hutton.
Jeff Williams – Born in Mount Vernon, Ohio, Jeff began his professional jazz drumming career in New York in 1971. By ’72 he was playing with Stan Getz, followed by Dave Liebman and Lookout Farm through 1976. His other associations include Joe Lovano, Lee Konitz, Paul Bley, Bill McHenry, Ethan Iverson, Tony Malaby, Leo Genovese and a host of others.
Since making a second home in London some years ago Jeff has performed with Kenny Wheeler,Norma Winstone, Martin Speake, Nikki Illes, Olie Brice and more, in addition to leading his own bands, whose members have included Phil Robson, Kit Downes, Finn Peters, Josh Arcoleo, Sam Lasserson, John O’Gallagher, Duane Eubanks and John Hébert. Jeff has recorded five albums for the Whirlwind Recordings label showcasing his original compositions. Jeff has given jazz drumming instruction at a number of universities and currently teaches at the Royal Academy of Music in London.
Hans Koller was born into a musical family, his father was a jazz-loving Lutheran pastor, his mother a music teacher and his four sisters all played instruments.
Koller started playing in bands with saxophonist Stan Sulzmann and trumpeter Chris Batchelor and went on to form his own group, ‘Neverland’, with bass player Dave Whitford, saxophonist Rob Townsend and drummer Stuart Laurence. This group was augmented into a nine-piece outfit for Koller’s début album Magic Mountain (1997), which established him as one of the leading new jazz composers in the UK. Three years later he won the Joey Award for composers organised by Eastern Arts, and subsequently was awarded major commissions by Birmingham Jazz and by the Freden International Music Festival. In 2001 he released Lovers and Strangers, an album featuring his trio alongside the harpist Helen Tunstall, the singer Christine Tobin and the percussionist Corrina Sylvester.
His next album, New Memories (2002), was hailed as “the most expansive, expressive and exciting new jazz orchestral sound to have emerged in this country since the late-lamented Loose Tubes” by John Fordham in The Guardian.
“An exuberant and remarkable talent, Koller’s music is full of surprises.” – Ian Carr – Rough Guide to Jazz, 3rd edition (2004).
Over the next decade Koller worked on refining his sound, writing for Steve Lacy (London Ear ), working in large group contexts with Evan Parker, and with Kenny Wheeler and Bob Brookmeyer, performing and recording with the NDR Bigband (Scenic Routes ), as well as playing piano in various groups led by Mike Gibbs (including a tour of England in 2007 alongside Steve Swallow, Bill Frisell and Adam Nussbaum).
Subsequently, Koller produced a number of significant outputs of his own music including performances with Phil Woods and the BBC Big Band, a project with Dave Liebman, writing for the WDR Big Band with Gerard Presencer, a project with the HR Big Band, and, in 2009, an album with Bill Frisell and Evan Parker (Cry, Want ). Koller had by then begun to focus on valve trombone, inspired by a 2006 study/stay at Bob Brookmeyer’s house, and started a fruitful small band partnership with drummer Jeff Williams, and bassist/trumpet player Percy Pursglove. He recorded quartet albums for Babel (Chasing the Unicorn), with Paris-based Canadian saxophonist François Théberge, for Evan Parker’s PSI label with the legendary German saxophonist Gerd Dudek (Day and Night), and in 2011 started forming a formidable creative partnership with NYC altoist John O’Gallagher. On their first meeting, Koller and O’Gallagher were memorably described by John Fordham in The Guardian as “two heavyweight theoreticians fizzing with jazz heat”, and the pair went on to work regularly, producing two BBC Radio 3 broadcasts, performances and recordings in both large ensemble and quartet contexts, and collaborating in a 2015 commission from Jazzlines to write for the renowned BCMG (Birmingham Contemporary Music Group).
Koller’s most ambitious work, his 2016 triple vinyl release Retrospection (on Stoney Lane Records), brought together over 30 of the world’s leading jazz musicians, including Steve Swallow, Jakob Bro, and the NDR Bigband.