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Saturday, June 3, 2023

Alister Spence/ Tony Buck - Mythographer (Alister Spence Music, 2023)

By Stuart Broomer

Pianist Alister Spence would likely be far better known if he didn’t reside in Australia; conversely, he might not have developed the distinctive and particular style and rich depth that he shows here and on his previous recordings. There’s a special sense of space, though distinct in each musician, amongst Australian improvisers. It’s likely best known in the work of The Necks, that sense of stretching musical time towards origins and then on again, much as it appears in the indigenous music (consider the continuous oscillation of the didgeridoo) and the landscape stretching on forever. Alister Spence has led an eponymous trio for 25 years, with The Necks’ bassist Lloyd Swanton a regular, and here he’s paired with Tony Buck, both The Necks’ drummer and a prominent member of the Berlin free improvisation scene as well.

Spence possesses a particular kind of vision that speaks to an original distance, whether from our usual sense of a scene as place or as constituent style, a special capacity to see through time and space to a different territory, so that you get something like “And Yet She Turns”, a 23-minute voyage through lapping scales and clusters that stretches time toward infinity, animated by Spence’s pan-modality, the piano’s own developing resonance and Buck’s brilliant rattle, a kind of rich, randomized stimuli. From track to track here, the two together develop a collective sense of momentary occasion, so that their respective sounds might never land in precisely the same place, yet they share an essential propulsive energy, an empathy of collisions, that moves forward, stands still and reaches out, a radical model of temporal otherness.

At the opposite running time to “And Yet She Turns”, on the four-minute “The Extent to Which We Still Need Beauty”, we are again invited to a glimpse of the infinite, here formed of hanging, lapping, diatonic clusters. “Strange Luminant”, a darker meditation with an edgy looming bass line, feels strangely like an inversion of the late piano music of Alexander Scriabin.

It’s all original music of a high order, inviting a listener into a distinctive terrain.