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Alister Spence is one of Australia’s most original, distinctive pianist-composer- improvisers. Known for some years in his own country, he is now deservedly gaining an international reputation. His trio features Lloyd Swanton, bassist with stellar improvising group The Necks, and drummer Toby Hall. Some tracks find them at their jazziest; others blend texture and soundscape in what the press release correctly describes as ‘a unique and captivating compositional style’. Like the greatest jazz pianist-composers such as Monk and Ellington, Spence improvises with a coherence and imagination that matches his compositional mastery.

It’s poignant to think that this double album on Australian jazz label Rufus is Spence’s most ambitious recording, at a time when the label is battling heroically against the challenge of the download culture. Far Flung offers a challenging diversity of styles and genres, from lyrical mainstream to austere sound art.

Spence isn’t capable of writing an uninteresting composition, and all the pieces here offer something distinctive. Flight Plan sounds like a last-minute dash for a plane, full of dissonant confusion. It’s followed by the gorgeously plangent (With) Thanks and the hypnotic Felt, with its piano and glockenspiel theme.

Lucid explores noise in an intensely musical way, with Spence inside the piano. Threading the Maze begins with a tinkling music-box effect, segueing into the kind of catchy minor-key hook that Spence is so fertile in producing and inspiring a long, haunting improvisation from the pianist; it ends with a pleasing symmetry. Remember the name.

ANDY HAMILTON Read the full review on Agora Classica


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