Alister Spence, Whirlpool | The Vinyl Anachronist


I just finished up my review of the Joseph Audio Pulsar2 Graphene loudspeakers yesterday, which will appear in early August, and Australian jazz composer Alister Spence and his new solo piano work Whirlpool figured heavily into it. I mention my friend Bob Clarke, a high-end audio distributor, who once told me that he uses the grand piano, not the female voice, to judge an audio system’s strengths. “A great grand piano will tell you everything you need to know,” he said. I thought of that wise statement as soon as the first track began.

Alister Spence sounds like a man who has spent a huge chunk of his life sitting on a piano bench, exploring every sound he could make. As I mention in the Pulsar2 review, Spence is a man who seems more fond of the left side of his instrument than the right. I’ve changed my mind–he’s fascinated with the relationship between the two ends. After repeated listens to Whirlpool, which consists of 23 improvisations using both traditional and prepared pianos, you’ll hear an incredible range of sounds, high and low. These might sound like a piano, which they do most of the time, and they might not.

What you’ll hear is everything you need to know.

What you’ll also hear from Alister Spence is inspiration taken from the movement of water, specifically Debussy’s La Mer. Spence is able to recreate those same visuals of the rising and falling of the open sea, the very definition of force majeure. Most of us have heard these massive solo piano improvisations before, from masters such as Keith Jarrett and Jan Gunner Hoff, but it’s surprising how quickly Spence finds the true essence of water, its romantic indifference, its ability to always win in the long run. Water comes in a variety of forms, but there’s always that brute strength beneath it all. Alister Spence captures that essence, which is not the easiest thing to do on a solo instrument, and he’s making it up as he goes along. Literally.

What was the connection between Whirlpool and the Joseph Audio Pulsar2 Graphenes? They didn’t just bring out the other’s strengths, they were seemingly made for each other. I heard everything I needed to know about Alister Spence and how he extracts such amazing sounds from the piano thanks to the huge soundstage presented by the Pulsars. (If you’re relatively unfamiliar with prepared pianos, where the piano wires are manipulated by objects to create unusual sounds, Alister Spence can now be your faithful guide.) This is a big chunk of piano improvisation, spread across two CDs, but it’s fascinating every step of the way.



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