Australian pianist-composer Alister Spence wanted to surprise himself in his first solo album in over thirty years career while developing his own extended techniques that employ the entire piano, inside and out and often with preparations, and exploring new sonic areas. Spence, known from his ongoing projects with Japanese pianist Satoko Fujii, his collaborations with Scottish sax player Raymond MacDonald and American pianist Myra Melford as well as his own trio, created a practice of improvisation on the piano with no pre-meditation or a clear idea of what it would sound like and he kept following – or losing its way – throughout the unpredictable sonic accidents or puzzles, he created. Whirlpool is a generous double album, completely improvised, recorded at Studios 301, Sydney in October 2019.
The 23 pieces investigate the orchestral palette of timbres and offering a deep insight into the rich musical universe of Spence whose idiosyncratic language is always engaging even when it reaches alien and cerebral sonic territories. Each piece is titled with contrasting meanings, emphasizing the sudden and surprising sonic discoveries. Spence’s journey begins with the dark «(Re)New» that builds its intensity on dissonance and vibrating overtones. «(Back)Water» and «(For)Gone» are lyrical and minimalist kind of searching free-improvisations. «(Dis)Similarity» uses preparations that incorporate into the piano resonant timbral range the Indonesian Gamelan rhythmic cycles and the sound of the West-African wooden balafon xylophone. Spence builds a complex rhythmic pattern on «(Inter)Relate» and more introspective ones on «(Some)Where». «(En)Folded» is an almost silent drone produced by light touches of the piano strings. Spence hammering of the piano keys on «(Over) Tonal» creates dense layers of tones and overtones. «(En)Circle» and the following «(Two)Fold» highlight Spence’s gift to sketch instantly playful melodies. The first disc ends with the highly resonant «(Pre)Text» where the piano sounds like wind chimes during a light breeze.
The second disc features the free-jazz, free-improvisations of «(Over)Taken», with its Monk-ish playfulness, and «(Some)What». Later, Spence investigates distinct, repetitive-minimalist strategies on «(Under)Standing», «(Re)Set» and the somber «(Up)Ended». He creates an enigmatic and ethereal drone on «(Wide)Spread» and the abstract and mysterious texture on «Re(Animate)». «(Sub)Stance» is a meditative, melancholic piece, followed by the eerie, rattling sounds of the cinematic «(Un)Likely». This fascinating journey ends with «(Fore)See» and its overflowing, buzzing, jingling resonant sounds, typical of the tropical plants pictured on the cover of Whirlpool. And like these plants, Spence music flows organically and surprises with its imagination, resourcefulness, and beauty.
Alister Spence (p, prep, perc)