Alister Spence


(Alister Spence Music)


One note, and then the options are limitless. When the music’s working, the improviser’s mind is ablaze with possibilities, making microsecond decisions about which of these to pursue, usually to sustain the thread of what is already being heard in the head – or sometimes to subvert it and pick up the pieces. The skill of staying in the “now” and not breaking this fragile thread can result in free improvisations that seem “composed”, as Alister Spence manages here, including with the wondrously subaquatic feel of (back)water.

But decades of composing and improvising in diverse contexts have armed Spence with many ways to skin the spontaneously composed cat. On (dis)similarity his combination of prepared and unprepared piano makes a solo performance sound like a trio or even a quartet, and he deploys the buzzing, droning and percussive options at his disposal (in addition to conventional piano sounds) with a keen ear for orchestration and an impish delight in surprise. The programming of this double album’s 25 pieces is as astute as the playing is resourceful. If there’s a veiled though-line amid the breadth of invention, it is Spence’s love of space, wistfulness and a restrained drama.