Tag Archives: Alister Spence


Tonight (6 June) at Merlyn Theatre in The Malthouse at 9pm, the Alister Spence Trio will perform in an Australian premiere with Dawn of Midi. It seems appropriate for Ausjazz to dust off an album review before we have the chance to hear the trio live:

Far Flung cover


Rufus Records

3.5 stars

Occasionally I like to ask a friend or family member to give an opinion on a track from a new album, often a track that I imagine may be a little challenging. The response is usually blunt, honest and immediate, whether positive or not: “Yes, I love that” or “No, turn it off”.

If the reaction is negative, I like to try another, radically different, track from the same album. Most often the response is, “Yes, that’s much better. You can leave that on.” When I point out that both tracks came from the same album, it comes as a surprise.

It can take a while to broaden our tastes, so there is often a lingering expectation that tracks on an album will be be fairly consistent in style and approach, so that we’ll know quickly whether we like what’s on offer. Some albums provide that, but many take us to a gamut of musical places, including some that assail our senses and strain our tolerances. Far Flung is one of those.

Far Flung (2012) is the fifth release from the Alister Spence Trio after Three Is A Circle (2000), Flux (2003), Mercury (2006) and fit (2009). The double CD provides 19 tracks described as an “interweaving of jazz compositions, open improvisations, and re-composed post-production pieces” featuring Alister Spence on piano/trio samples/music box, Lloyd Swanton on double bass and Toby Hall on drums/glockenspiel.

I’d recommend approaching this eclectic feast of sound via the sixth track on Disc One, Sleep Under Water, as opposed to via the opening textures of Tumbler or faster Flight Plan. Why? Because, like so many tracks on this album, it takes us on a journey that can serve to acclimatise us to the rich, submersive experience that awaits.

Track four, Felt, begins with vigorous piano chords and percussive chatter, ushers in contemplative tinklings before expansive and then emphatic piano, ending back at the chordal pattern.

That’s enough description to whet the appetite. I find that once we are stretched a little we become more flexible and open to new possibilities.

These days (as opposed to back in the day), it is easy to download individual tracks rather than whole albums, or to pick out the tracks we like using a playlist. But that may mean we don’t challenge ourselves quite so much, which is a pity.

Far Flung is a journey with many twists and turns, but it will reward the traveller prepared to savour new experiences.


Alister Spence’s notes on Far Flung are available on his website.

Rufus Records


What a horribly over-used phrase “going forward” has become, so much so that upon hearing it I find the contents of my stomach likely to be coming up without delay. But now that I have your attention, here are some gigs that should not be missed unless you are, as I so often am, working night shift.

First, I am upset that I had to miss the nine-piece band performing music from Tim Willis‘s suite Night & Day suite at Bennetts Lane last night (October 9). I missed it during this year’s Melbourne International Jazz Festival and have had to forgo the pleasure again because work comes first.

The good news is that Tim Willis and The End will be back at Bennetts on the following two Wednesdays, October 16 and 23, so I’m hoping for a day shift.

The other good news is that there are more top gigs coming up, starting tonight.

Jex Saarelaht Trio

Jex Saarelaht Trio, Bennetts Lane, 9pm, Thursday October 10

This features pianist Jex Saarelaht, bassist Philip Rex and drummer Niko Schäuble playing original compositions and pieces by Jex’s favourite jazz composers, including Herbie Nichols, Geri Allen, Thelonious Monk and Andrew Hill.

Cannonball Live

CD launch — Cannonball, Bennetts Lane, 9pm, Friday October 11

Melbourne-based jazz group Cannonball launches its new CD Live featuring Chantal Mitvalsky on vocals, which was recorded live over two nights at Bennetts Lane Jazz Club “to capture all the excitement, raw energy and `dirt’ of a live performance”.

Inspired by the jazz/groove/soul music of the late saxophone giant Julian ‘Cannonball’ Adderley, the group does not endeavour to replicate his work but to pay its respects to his music and to harness his infectious groove and joy-filled approach to making music.

The band features Tim Wilson saxophone, Paul Williamson trumpet, Darrin Archer piano, Sam Bates drums, Tom Lee bass.

Live includes 10 songs including rearrangements from the classic albums that Cannonball recorded with Ernie Andrews and Nancy Wilson, plus others from the great American songbook. Expect some originals and lesser known standards at the live performance.

The Vampires

The Vampires (Photo by Karen Steains)

CD Launch: The Vampires, Bennetts Lane, Sunday October 13 at 8.30pm

The Vampires have released their fourth studio album, Tiro, and are on tour nationally throughout October, with appearances at the Manly Jazz Festival and Wangaratta Festival of Jazz with special guest Shannon Barnett, who will be on loan from New York City. The Sydney album launch will be on Thursday, Dec 5 at the Basement with Danaides and Slo Poke Rodriguez.

Jeremy Rose describes the new album as “taking a new direction for the group.”

“This album casts a wide net of influences, but particularly draws from my recent travels and musical studies in Greece and Cuba. The album was also influenced by Nick Garbett‘s travels to the Pacific island of Palau and Colombia, and Alex Boneham‘s sojourn in Rome over the past year. These diverse musical ‘postcards’ come together conceptually well.”

The album also features a debut for Jeremy on tenor saxophone, soprano saxophone and clarinet, as well as Alex Masso’s work on cajon and additional percussion. The album also features two remixes by Paul ‘Tanuki’ Bromley, who has played bass with Brisbane rock band George and now is a producer.

Tour dates:

Sun 13 Oct MELBOURNE, VIC, Bennetts Lane Jazz Club, 25 Bennetts Ln, (03) 9663 2856, 8.30pmwww.bennettslane.com Presented by Melbourne Jazz Co-op

Mon 14 Oct ADELAIDE, SA, The Wheatsheaf, 39 George St Thebarton, (08) 8443 4546, presented by COMA 8.00 and 9.00pm tickets $15, $10 for COMA members www.coma.net.au

Thurs 17 Oct GOSFORD NSW, Rhythm Hut, 135 Faunce St, Gosford, workshop from 6.30pm, support from 7.30pm, show at 8.30pm $25 for the workshop + show / $15 for show onlywww.therhythmhut.com.au

Fri 18 Oct BELLINGEN, NSW, #5 Church St dinner from 6pm, show at 7.30pm $12www.5churchstreet.com

Sat 19 Oct GOLD COAST, QLD, Mandala Organic Arts Cafe, 2558 Gold Coast Hwy, Mermaid Beach, 7.30pm, $5 www.mandalaorganicarts.com.au

Sun 20 Oct BANGALOW, NSW, ‘Sunday Afternoon Jazz at the Bowlo’ – Bangalow Bowling Club with The Vampires plus special guests saxophonist Dave Ades and percussion master Greg Sheehan, 4pm, $15/10 kids under 12 free facebook event

Thurs 31 Oct CANBERRA, ACT The Loft, Majura Medical Centre, Cnr Antill and Cowper Sts Dickson. 8.30pm Tix $15/$12

Sat 2 Nov WANGARATTA, VIC Wangaratta International Jazz Festival, WPAC Memorial Hall, Wangaratta, **With special guest Shannon Barnett 8:00pm www.2013.wangarattajazz.com

Tues 12 Nov NEWCASTLE, NSW The Underground presented by NIMA, The Grand Hotel, cnr Bolton St and Church St, Newcastle, $15/$10 doors at 7.30pm, music from 8pm, www.nima.org.au

Sun 17 Nov WOLLONGONG, NSW, Clifton School of the Arts, 338 Lawrence Hargrave Drive, Clifton, 2.00-5.00pm $20, $10, $50 family

Thurs 5 Dec SYDNEY, NSW, ALBUM LAUNCH PARTY* The Basement, 7 Macquarie Pl, Sydney, with Danaides (The Alcohotlicks) and Slo Poke Rodriguez, $20, (02) 9251 2797www.thebasement.com.au

Andrew Robson

Andrew Robson

Premiere  of Andrew Robson’s A Day at the Fair, The Grainger Museum, Royal Parade, University of Melbourne, 2.30pm Sunday October 20

This is exciting. Composer and saxophonist Andrew Robson will let some talented jazz musicians loose on 12 English folk songs collected by the great Australian composer Percy Grainger.

Robson has created a concert-length suite for this song cycle, which will also be performed on October 24 at 6.30pm in Verbrugghen Hall at Sydney Conservatorium of Music (admission is free). At the Melbourne performance, Alister Spence will perform some of the pieces on Grainger’s Estey harmonium.

The line-up is Andrew Robson saxophones, James Greening trombone/pocket trumpet, Alister Spence piano/harmonium, Brett Hirst double bass and Toby Hall drums.

Tickets for October 20 concert cost $20/$15. To book call  (03) 83448822.



Alister Spence and Paul Grabowsky

Alister Spence and Paul Grabowsky in ElectroACOUSTIC, ACOUSTICelectro

‘It seemed as if they were hunters and collectors, fossicking and ferreting, gathering and creating, building and engineering, coaxing and tweaking.’


ElectroACOUSTIC, ACOUSTICElectro, Australian Art Orchestra, Bennetts Lane Jazz Club, 1 August 2013

Paul Grabowsky was at the piano, but not at the helm for this exploration of meeting points between acoustic and electronic music. This was the first outing curated by the AAO’s recently appointed artistic director Peter Knight, so we were curious to know what would eventuate.

Knight is a trumpeter, composer and sound artist who has gained international acclaim for his integration of jazz, world music, and experimental traditions. He likes to experiment with instruments such as the trumpet, guitar and saxophone, combined with new technologies.

For the third year in a row the AAO has a month’s residency at Bennetts Lane, in this case presenting four Thursday concerts with guest collaborators forming different quintets. The opening night featured Alister Spence on keyboard, vibes and assorted electronic devices, Tony Hicks on reeds, Joe Talia on drums and percussion, Grabowsky on piano (slightly prepared, I think) and Knight on trumpet, laptop and assorted electronic devices.

“The music we will make will be provocative, evocative, visceral then calming, but always richly textural,” Knight said in publicising the concert. “In Melbourne we have one of the most distinctive improvised music scenes in the world and I hope that everyone with a spirit of musical adventure will come out to listen to some of its finest exponents.”

Alister Spence

Alister Spence

So how did the first outing play out? Well, apart from the curator momentarily fearing that he was having a stroke when struck by the red focus beam of a camera (mea culpa, mea culpa), everything went according to the presumably fairly fluid plan. I thought the second set worked best, but both delivered what Knight had envisaged.

In the opening set Spence devoted some time to nurturing, coaxing and fine-tuning his sounds, produced variously by keyboard, a tiny mallet stick and what appeared to be a brush with metal bristles, plus the assorted devices that added distortion and looping patterns. Grabowsky contributed piano string pluckings, spiky notes, runs and some delightful helter skelter. Hicks produced clarinet croaks and rasps, Talia some wavering, high-pitched sounds with his bow on a cymbal edge.

Spence would tap the vibes and work on the effects; Hicks produced a very long note, almost certainly achieved with circular breathing. The collective sounds built a lot of intensity before taking a slow slide towards quiescence, punctuated by sporadic attacks and underpinned by growls, tunnel and funnel sounds. In these instances I love the sense of pleasurable abatement that follows what has become, over time, a little oppressive.

Tony Hicks, Joe Talia and Peter Knight

Tony Hicks, Joe Talia and Peter Knight

The soundscape created in this performance was carefully crafted, with the smallest elements being significant to the whole. Talia’s feather-light taps and Spence’s bell shakings were examples.

Spence conjured recurring “depth” sounds that called to mind scenes from 1960s TV series Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, set in a submarine. Grabowsky played chord, chord, chord insistently, then began splashing them about as if he was having summer fun with a garden hose. On tenor sax, Hicks rasped his way in as Grabowsky speeded up his input. Tension mounted. Talia was light and rapid with his sticks before a soaring, high vibrato from Hicks smoothed out the freneticism. Grabowsky tapped low notes. Spence was busily tweaking as Hicks reached a crescendo. Then the beast quietened. The remaining sounds had the feel of breathing.

Spence contributed chimes, then a burst of loudness, as if there was still the threat of a breakout that could not be controlled. Before quiet gradually descended at the set’s end, I reflected on the way the members of this ensemble were working. It seemed as if they were hunters and collectors, fossicking and ferreting, gathering and creating, building and engineering, coaxing and tweaking.

Tony Hicks and Peter Knight

Tony Hicks and Peter Knight

As mentioned, the second set seemed more engrossing. The group was focused, attentive as Hicks opened by delivering air into silence with a very small sax (perhaps a sopranino). The tiny sound was embellished by a muffled patter as pads opened and closed. It was an example of how important it is to be in a venue where patrons listen, rather than chat.

Talia displayed superb lightness of touch and fluidity as he added sprinklings of bell-like and feathery stick sounds. His sticks moved faster and faster, but delicately, until one flew off somewhere. From Knight’s horn and laptop came nasally snorting and rattling, at first animal-like and then techno chomping and static, as if there was a cyber monster gobbling a feast. Then came a bark, a squawk.

Spence introduced vibrato with sustains on the keyboard then tapped the vibes to conjure the feel of pedal steel guitar notes ringing, chiming and hanging suspended. As Grabowsky dabbled on the piano strings, Knight, Hicks and Talia began crinkling paper. This had to be planned. Unless by chance they each decided to screw up a shopping list at the one time. It was unexpectedly effective.

Paul Grabowsky and Alister Spence

Paul Grabowsky and Alister Spence

Weird bird sounds and whooshes, some more undersea echoes and some mass tweeting (not using Twitter) created an eerie feel that was restful, contemplative. I mused on our need to liken every sound to something familiar, and how we could otherwise describe them. Or is describing missing the point, since we should just hear?

Grabowsky produced chords that seemed flat in profile, separated and somehow distorted. They descended like spikes of hot rain, some heavy, some light. They seemed to drop randomly, splotches of sound. Hicks played a piccolo or tin whistle, Knight blew across his horn mouthpiece. Buried in the bowels of the piano, Grabowsky conjured up a storm. There was metallic clatter from Talia’s sticks. It became frenetic. Volumes grew. Hicks was on soprano sax. There was thunder — was it the work of Spence or Grabowsky?

This was reminiscent of a climax during a Necks concert. Was it meaningful discourse or clamorous discord? Who knew? Who cared? From the keyboard came gobble and chatter, from Talia’s drum kit emphatic statements. Knight actually began to play his trumpet. Hicks switched to clarinet. Spence poured in runs of notes. Everyone was going at it.

Before the inevitable dying back came “voices” from Spence, lots of chatter from the ensemble. Then it was over. The electro had encountered the acoustic, the acoustic had taken on the electro. They had met, challenged, teased and perhaps even had their way with each other. And, particularly in this second set, we had been carried into the fiery consummation and beyond.


PICTURE GALLERY: Click HERE for larger images.

AAO performances this month will feature:

Thursday 8 August
Scott Tinkler (trumpet)
Judith Hamann (cello)
Ren Walters (guitar/tape loops)
Peter Knight (trumpet/laptop/amplifier)
David Tolley (bass/laptop)

Thursday 15 August
Joe Talia (drums/Revox)
Peter Knight (trumpet/laptop/amplifier)
Jon Smeathers (saxophone/laptop)
Dale Gorfinkel (prepared vibraphone/devices)
Adrian Sherriff (bass trombone/electronics)

Thursday 22 August
Georgie Darvidis (voice)
Peter Knight (trumpet/laptop/amplifier)
Stephen Magnusson (guitar/pedals)
Scott Tinkler (trumpet)
Paul Grabowsky (piano)
Dale Gorfinkel (prepared vibraphone/devices)

Tickets are available from Bennetts Lane Jazz Club