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Alister Spence: Live

Duncan Heining By

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Alister Spence Trio: Live is, apparently, this Australian group's sixth recording. Sadly, the others have passed me by and pianist Alister Spence only recently crossed my CD deck in the company of Scottish saxophonist / improviser Raymond MacDonald. To be honest, much contemporary piano trio jazz—EST, Brad Mehldau, The Necks—bores me. Perhaps unfairly so but to me a lot of it sounds to me like a Michael Nyman soundtrack from some seemingly endless film that Mrs. O'Groove would have me sit through. This album certainly has its minimalist moments—more Glass, I like to think, than Nyman—but there is much more here than that. If I have a criticism of the music on the album, then it lies in its over-reliance—at times—on pedal points and repetition. That said, Spence is a far more creative pianist than that comment might suggest. The opening track "Radium" is a case in point. Its structure is song-like and quite simple. The trio make little attempt to extend the melody beyond a series of modulations and pedals but it is quite beautifully executed and Lloyd Swanton (The Necks) provides a lovely rhythmic counterpoint. Things really pick up with "Felt." It has a delicate, almost folk song quality to it and it more than justifies its long introduction from the piano before Swanton and drummer Toby Hall join Spence on the tune. Hall's use of glockenspiel here and elsewhere is quite delightful but his accompaniment of Spence's piano is really quite exceptional. The piece opens out slowly with Spence's limpid, thoughtful exploration of the melody punctuated by trills from Swanton on bass and Hall on glockenspiel. Spence picks up a gentle swing and, whilst he sounds nothing like Bill Evans, the music has that same sense of flow and conversation that Evans' two great trios had. "Brave Ghost" has a nice angularity to it, not exactly Monk-ish perhaps but built upon an intriguing series of rhythmic shapes. It develops through an excellent bass solo from Swanton into a bluesy, driving piece performed with panache and a whole lot of soul. For my money, the fragmentary, loose "Not Everything But Enough," which leads into "Mullet Run," provides the strongest evidence of the talent on offer here. Played essentially rubato but never entirely free, "Mullet Run" is structured around a dialogue between Spence and Hall. Hall is a real individual—you can't help but notice him. He's not flashy- -what he has to say is always right for the moment and invariably quietly surprising and his reading of Spence's intentions is spot on. If "Not Everything...Mullet Run" would be my first choice here, I suspect younger ears would plump for the final track "Seventh Song." It has that filmic quality of much recent piano trio jazz. In fact, Spence himself is a very successful composer for film in Australia. "Seventh Song"—sorry to state the bleedin' obvious—returns to the song-like but ambient form that Spence seems, on this evidence, to favour. It is beautifully weighted and atmospheric. It kinds of hangs in space, a sense aided by the subtle use of samples, as a succession of mental pictures flash across one's mind. It is an astutely sumptuous ending to a superb album.

Track Listing: Radium; Felt; Brave Ghost; Not Everything But Enough – opening; Mullet Run; Seventh Song.

Personnel: Alister Spence (piano, samples, music box); Lloyd Swanton (bass); Toby Hall (drums, glockenspiel).

Title: Live | Year Released: 2016 | Record Label: Self Produced

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