Sensaround – Isotropes (hellosQuare)


Improvisation heavyweights Alister Spence (Rhodes and effects) and Raymond MacDonald (alto and soprano saxophone) team up with Shoeb Ahmad (samplers and effects) for this release under the group name of Sensaround.

Spence has been a pivotal player in Australia’s contemporary Jazz scene for over two decades as a member of Wanderlust, Clarion Fracture Zone and by leading his own successful ensembles.  His musical friendship with Scottish free improviser MacDonald  extends ten years and recently the pair recorded a duet album, Stepping Between the Shadows, in 2012. Ahmad recorded Isotropes in his Brick Lane studio in Canberra and has released the ensuing work on his great hellosQuare label; home to albums from Tangets, Pollen Trio and Spartak to name a few.

An isotrope can have a few definitions, depending on your field, but broadly speaking it’s an even distribution of power or matter over all directions. It’s a great metaphor for this album with the trio equally sharing a dialogue over six tracks – named ‘Senses’ i – vi.

Spence’s Rhodes is barely recognisable for most of the tracks, manipulated through a variety of effects pedals. The tweaked keyboard offers a world of pads, drones, squelches and bell like tones. Occasionally it’s native voice is distinguished – during the epic ‘Senses iv’ you can hear the internal tines strummed and a pulsing mid register note. Slow chordal movement is heard elsewhere, nonetheless this isn’t a traditional Rhodes trio record in any sense. Spence’s primary concern is to build a variety of textures.

Ahmad’s contributions are equally difficult to attribute, although I assume tones like the metallic scrapes of the opening track, abrasive crackle of ‘Senses ii’ and spluttering glitch of ‘Senses vi’ are his doing. Between Ahmed and Spence a wonderfully dense and intriguing ambience is created. The cliche that ‘close listening is rewarded’ definitely applies here…BYO headphones for the full immersive experience.

MacDonald’s raspy alto unleashes a hailstorm of restless staccato notes during ‘ii’. Equally incisive is his use of the soprano on ‘iii’. Mid way through the 22 minute plus ‘Senses iv’,  MacDonald’s scatternote mode is shelved to make way for some wonderfully lyrical phrases. The woodwinds strike a marked contrast against Spence and Ahmad’s pedal driven collage, yet there is a distinct cohesion between all sources.

Isotropes is a rich and vibrant album, capturing the three musicians deeply engaged in sonic conversation. It’s beautifully sculpted and presented. One hopes that the members of Sensaround can continue to negotiate their respective schedules and produce a follow up album.


About Author

Matt Wakeling's first LP was Kiss 'Double Platinum'. He is the host of 'Guitar Speak', an interview based podcast launching in mid 2016.