Pianist and composer Spence is one of the leading lights in contemporary original jazz and improvised music in Australia. With a performing and composing career spanning more than 25 years, his wide-ranging talents have led him to perform with and compose for some of the world’s most respected artists in the areas of contemporary music, improvisation, film and theatre.
The Alister Spence Trio with Lloyd Swanton (the Necks) and Toby Hall (ex Mike Nock trio) has enjoyed critical acclaim both nationally and internationally, being nominated twice for Best Australian Jazz Album at the ARIA Awards (2004/2007). The trio’s most recent CD, Alister Spence Trio: Live, has received nominations at the 2016 Australian Jazz Bell Awards (Best Small Jazz Band) and the 2016 APRA/AMCOS Art Music Awards (Excellence in Jazz).
He is also a founding member of Clarion fracture Zone, Wanderlust and The Australian Art Orchestra. In 2014 Sensaround (Spence, MacDonald, Ahmad) launched their electro-acoustic trio and released Isotropes.
Alister talks to The Street ahead of the upcoming Sensaround performance.
I have been working for a while now with the Fender Rhodes electric piano, trying to use it more as a sound source and less as a piano keyboard. Having previously (and still continuing) played acoustic piano with Raymond in a duo and as a quartet in Europe, it seemed a good idea to try to employ a more electronic palette in order to merge more with Shoeb’s loops and guitar sounds.
YOU WERE NOMINATED FOR THIS YEAR’S AUSTRALIAN JAZZ BELLS AWARDS AND ARIA ART MUSIC AWARDS. WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO YOU TO BE NOMINATED?
In a country that produces so much good original music it is an honour to receive nominations such as this. The Alister Spence Trio has a long history, spanning almost 20 years. This band has been a very real musical life-line for me and a sounding board for many new ideas for all of us. It’s gratifying to be recognised as contributing to music culture in some way.
YOU HAVE WORKED WITH SOME OF THE BEST DIRECTORS IN FILM, SHORT FILM AND DOCUMENTARY INCLUDING IVAN SEN, TOM ZUBRYCKI, ALLAN COLLINS AND TOM MURRAY. TAKE US THROUGH THE PROCESS OF CREATING SOUND SCORES AND YOUR INTEREST IN THE INTERFACE BETWEEN MUSIC AND SOUND DESIGN FOR FILMS.
I feel I have been very lucky in my associations with directors. Working together on films requires an ability to communicate across mediums and this can be very difficult. As a musician and composer the task is to identify the essence of what is being communicated through the film and then figure out the most economical way to support this, so that your ideas support and energise without drawing focus on themselves. It can lead to wonderful discoveries about the effect of sound and simplicity.
WHAT INSPIRED YOU TO FORM THE AUSTRALIAN/SCOTS ELECTRO-ACOUSTIC TRIO SENSAROUND? WHEN AND WHERE WAS YOUR FIRST PERFORMANCE?
Shoeb joined Raymond and myself for some collaborative gigs when we were launching our duo recording ‘Stepping Between the Shadows’ in Australia in 2013. We had a wonderful time playing together as a trio (and incorporating the fender Rhodes), full of mystery and an ease of musical communication. We decided we would be silly not to continue!
SENSAROUND HAS NEW RELEASES COMING UP ON THE NEW AUSTRALIAN LABEL PROVENANCE. TELL US ABOUT THESE COMPOSITIONS AND THE SOUND WE CAN EXPECT.
Yes Stuart Buchanan is releasing our second studio album and our fourth release ‘Heart/Noise’ on his Provenance label, later this year. This is great news as we feel the band has a strong identity and being on Stuart’s great label provides an opportunity for a wider range of people to hear us. We are also launching Little Stabs, to co-incide with the Street Theatre performance. This is a collection of music recorded live in Tokyo, Kobe and Okayama with famed improvisors Michiyo Yagi, Satoko Fujii, Natsuki Tamura and Yasuko Kaneko during Sensaround’s Japanese tour in February 2016.
WHAT CAN WE EXPECT FROM THE SENSAROUND SOUNDSCAPE FOR YOUR PERFORMANCE AT THE STREET THIS MONTH?
I have to say I always enjoy how Shoeb describes us. Here is what he wrote for the upcoming Street Theatre show on August 26: ‘Australian/Scots electro-acoustic trio Sensaround work in a unique middle ground between melodic jazz ambience, ghostly dub and post-punk experiments as lo-fi rhythms press up against woodwind melodies and Rhodes tones are set awash in free percussion.’
There is a definite strong melody component in what we do and also strong affinities with rhythm mixed into the sound palette.
WHAT ARE FIVE OF YOUR FAVOURITE AUSTRALIAN RECORDS?
This is difficult! Some of my favourites, in no particular order, would be:
Mike Nock (New Zealander lived in NY for many years, now in Australia) In, Out and Around
The Necks Chemist
Ed Kuepper Honey Steels Gold
Clarion Fracture Zone Blue Shift (this was the debut ARIA Award winning recording by the band that Sandy Evans, Tony Gorman and myself composed for and co-led and it opened up many possibilities for us)
Lawrence English Kiri No Oto
WHAT’S INSPIRING YOU CREATIVELY AT THE MOMENT?
Also in no particular order: Satoko Fujii and Natsuki Tamura, surfing, Chris Abrahams, Stan Grant, my friends and family, whales, Morton Feldman, Steve Lacy, improvising and composing music, reading.
WHAT ARE YOU READING AND WATCHING CURRENTLY?
Mostly reading, reading and more reading as I’m in 3rd year of a PhD so reading a lot around experimentalism in improvising and composition. Morton Feldman’s ‘Give My Regards to Eighth Street’ is excellent, as is ‘Steve Lacy: Conversations.’ Watching is just ‘no brainer’ material apart from ABC news/current affairs (we can’t get SBS unfortunately).
THE LAST WORD IS YOURS ALISTER. ANYTHING YOU WANT TO SAY TO MUSICIANS, CRITICS AND FANS?
I guess only the obvious…I hope you can make it along to listen to us on August 26th. This is our 4th Australian tour now, having also toured in Japan in February and I believe our sound continues to strengthen and deepen. And looking forward to saying hi to Canberra friends!