Far Flung

Alister Spence Trio
Rufus Records RF105
Reviewed by , May 1st, 2014

Launched at the Sound lounge in Sydney in October 2012, Far Flung is a double album which continues the adventurous explorations of pianist Spence’s 2009 Fit, which I reviewed in an earlier Music Forum.  There is the addition of a midi controller and ‘music box’ which generates samples of recordings of the trio, consisting of Spence, Lloyd Swanton on bass and Toby Hall on drums and glockenspiel. The glockenspiel, which also featured on Fit, is a significant addition to the trio’s palette, which has become fuller with the use of samples, but with restrained use of electronics. 19 tracks in all, which have been in the trio’s repertoire for a year, range from just over a minute to just over ten minutes, and the album explores the trio’s full range.

It begins with a bass and drums rumble on the opening Tumbler, a recomposition assembled in post-production from a studio recording, before Spence enters assertively in free form on prepared piano in the brief Flight Plan. (With) Thanks is a slower, even briefer, more melodic piano improvisation, while Felt combines piano and glockenspiel improvisations, followed by drums, then more glockenspiel, then arco bass, over a nine minute span, maintaining a subdued, melodic tone, morphing into piano trills and more conventional rhythms. Drawing Breath starts slowly and maintains a steady pace with Swanton’s bass and what sounds like Spence inside the piano, augmented by both arco and plucked bass, which then goes into a solo on Sleep Under Water, inspired by a night in Rajasthan sleeping under a swimming pool, with a series of rhythmic chords on piano matched by drums, eventually gaining pace.

Alister Spence, Toby Hall and Lloyd Swanton

Alister Spence, Toby Hall and Lloyd Swanton

Seventh Song is a transcription by Spence of an improvised co-composition played by the trio at a gig in 2011, with Spence’s chiming piano operating to great effect, Wraith is another short, growling piece recomposed in post production from the studio, and Mullet Run draws its inspiration from a camping trip in Northern New South Wales during the annual mullet fish migration. It begins with a walking bass and syncopated piano, and then changes rhythm into more free form style, with a bouncing bass note refrain on the piano. The last track on the first CD, Arc, is reconstructed from a recording of Swanton’s arco bass with a repeated piano overdub, and rounds things out with suitable aplomb.

Disc 2 starts with Life-Wish, another studio recomposition, a slow, suspended solo piano piece, while Lucid begins with growling improvised bass and free form stuttering drums. Threading the Maze is the longest track on the recording, a Spence composition beginning with tinkling piano, Swanton’s bass emerging only after three minutes or so, and concluding with overdubbed piano trills. Dashboard follows, solo percussion including faint glockenspiel sounds, Circumnavigate begins with solo bass and elephantine piano, joined by drum rolls, before things fragment, and electronic effects are used briefly. (And) Happiness is another short track for solo piano. Two of the last three tracks, Mt Solitary, and Lux, are studio recompositions with electronic effects, with glockenspiel and piano beating a minimalist pattern in Lux, while Brave Ghost is a Spence composition which begins with solo bass and drums, before becoming a full trio outing.

The variety over almost one and a half hours of piano trio music is impressive, the effects are never intrusive, while the glockenspiel adds a further dimension to the piano-bass-drums chemistry. Spence is gaining an international reputation and this album will certainly add to it.

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