Australian jazz pianist and composer Alister Spence has led his own trio for twenty years, picking up regional ARIA best jazz album nominations for Flux (2003), and Mercury (2006), both on the Rufus label. Spence has led the ensembles Clarion Fracture Zone and Wanderlust and was an early member of the Australian Art Orchestra. He is best known in the U.S. as a member of Scottish saxophonist Raymond MacDonald's International Big Band, and for his adventurous work with Satoko Fujii. Whirlpool is Spence's first solo release; an ambitious double-CD release of twenty-three, stand-alone improvisations.
The two-disc format of Whirlpool, and the succinct nature of the compositions, allow Spence plenty of space for creating across his broad palette of interests. Parenthesized prefixes that give each title two distinct meanings, sometimes a reversal such as "(un)likely," other times a different connotation, such as "(some)what." Spence allows little in unequivocal lyricism across these tracks but passing examples can be found in the dark shadings of "(re)new," "(un)seen," and "(for)gone." More often he gives us empirical creations such as the quirky, avant-garde "(back)water" and "(re)animate," prepared piano on the abstract "(dis)similarity" and "(some)where." Spence's affinity for free improvisations can be heard on "(inter)relate," "(over)tonal," and "(over)taken," the latter reminiscent of the eccentric style of Thelonious Monk. In the mix are acoustic experiments such as the simulated sounds of nature on "(en)folded," the bell-like effects on "(pre)text," and the high-pitched, percussion enhanced "(wide)spread."
Even when using objects and percussion, Spence doesn't embellish the music, letting the pieces organically reveal themselves. His playing frequently vacillates between expressive melody and measured cogitation, the processes coming together to express eloquent ideas. Spence is one of the best known and respected artists in Australia and the Oceania region having composed for dance, film and theater. He is overdue wider global acknowledgment and Whirlpool is a good place to hear his uncommon imagination at work.
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