Australian pianist Alister Spence, known for his collaborative projects with pianists Satoko Fujii, Myra Melford and sax player Raymond Macdonald, invited for the eighth album of his Trio German-born and fellow-Australian guitarist Ed Kuepper, co-founder and chief songwriter for the seventies proto-punk band The Saints, and post-punk meets avant-jazz The Laughing Clowns. Spence has known and appreciated Kuepper’s music and his improvisation skills for thirty years and since 2007 has recorded and played in a few of Kuepper’s bands, including the re-formed Laughing Clowns and the Aints.
Spence Trio – double bass player Lloyd Swanton (of The Necks fame) and drummer Toby Hall, and Kuepper played for the first time an improvised set in Sydney in March 2018. The four musicians reconvened at Studios 301 in Sydney for two days of recordings. Spence prepared some suggestive word descriptions, inspired by the poetry of Emily Dickinson, that would sketch the melodic cells of the piece, but the 15 pieces of the double album «Asteroid Ekosystem» were all improvised.
Kuepper’s extensive experience, his unique conception of sound and improvisation and his sonic palette totally shake the introspective, chamber interplay of Spence Trio. The first piece «Not a Leaf in Any Forest» still references the lyrical and contemplative legacy of the Trio, but Kuepper’s post-rock-tinged distorted guitar already soars above and introduces an urgent and tense dimension to the delicate interplay of the trio. Soon, Kuepper takes the role of an agent provocateur who keeps twisting and reshaping Spence Trio aesthetics again and again.
Kuepper sets a hypnotic groove on «A Passing Universe», beautifully expanded by Swanton, Spence and Hall, and later adopted by the Trio on «Caught at all». Kuepper sends the Trio over the edge on «Winds takes Forests» into an unsettling and effects-laden, dissonant sonic storm; invited the Trio to a West-African call-and-response, addictive jam on «Out upon Circumference», as he pays a tribute to the great Ali Farka Touré; and injects a mysterious, cinematic vein into “To the Invisible”, that comes close to The Necks sonic territory. Spence Trio sounds as enjoying these unpredictable sonic detours and more importantly, the opportunity to reinvent itself and expand its language and vocabulary.
The second disc offers a similar eclectic program that highlights the diverse scope and adaptability of both Spence Trio and Kuepper. It begins with the leisured blues «Face of the Atom»’ but then jumps into an abstract and minimalist, rhythmic-oriented soundscape on «The One the Other» and to the dramatic, prog-rock meets jazz of «Planetary Forces» and «And Sets the Sun». «The Night Became» and «Eclipse» suggest distinct strategies for exploring rhythmic patterns and layers and both feature the imaginative percussive work of Hall. Later on, Spence Trio and Kuepper dive into another intense storm on «Many would fly». This disc ends with another enigmatic-atmospheric texture, «Silence in the Earth», that stresses the distant sonic paths that Spence Trio and Kuepper have covered throughout this adventurous and risk-taking meeting.
Spence mentions that neither he nor Kuepper knew what form that meeting may take. Fortunately, this meeting reshaped the sound of Spence Trio as a fascinating, strong-minded and always surprising one.
Ed Kuepper (g, pedals), Alister Spence (p, perc), Lloyd Swanton (b), Toby Hall (dr, perc)