Gig review: Alister Spence, Jazz Bar, Edinburgh

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Pianist Alister Spence has an established reputation in his native Australia for blending improvisational jazz with melody and sampling to generate often elemental soundscapes, spacious – at times spaced out – music, one might say, from an expansive land.

Alister Spence

Jazz Bar, Edinburgh

Star rating: * * * *

Here joined by a frequent collaborator, saxophonist Raymond MacDonald from the Glasgow Improvisers’ Orchestra, Swedish drummer Chris Cantillo and Swedish-based Canadian double-bassist Joe Williamson, he followed songlines that took in some intriguing places.

The programme, much of which was drawn from Spence’s recent album, Far Flung, opened with a sonorous hive-like droning of live and sampled bowed bass, gradually joined by bell-like piano chiming and languorous calling on soprano sax, morphing unhurriedly into cyclical minimalism, then a bluesy slouch, which became increasingly urgent.

There was some rumbustious bopping with jagged piano lines, while, in contrast, Seventh Song was filmic-sounding, with piano chiming over taut brushes and gently pulsing bass, squalling soprano sax and electronic looping gradually working the piece into what sounded wonderfully like a skein of migrating geese.

Then it was down to earth with MacDonald leading a mellow samba, although with an odd, grating undertow – was it an unruly sample or a just wonky mike?

Certainly there was nothing insubstantial about Spence’s composition Brave Ghost with its unison piano and sax riffing and purposeful drum work from Cantillo.