Like our own Graham
Fitkin, Westlake's music owes a great
deal to the influences of jazz and also
Dutch minimalism. This is a superlative
CD that also introduces environmental
sounds and sampling technology to his
chamber music The first track is a beautiful
piece for solo bass clarinet with digital
delay written after studies in the Netherlands
with Harry Spaarnay. Like almost every
composition on the disc, Westlake is
featured as artist as well as composer.
He conjured a masterful performance
which wouldn't be too out of place on,
say, the ECM label. The second track
is also for solo performer - this time
percussion. Those fond of the albums
released here by Evelyn Glennie and
Colin Currie will enjoy Omphalo Centric
Lecture, an impressive workout for
marimba, log drums, cymbal and shaker.
The peculiar title comes from a painting
by Paul Klee.
The remaining tracks
are duets or pieces for small chamber
ensemble, including John Williams' group
Attaca - Timothy Kain and Chris Lawrence
also feature - in the fantasy Tall
Tales, written after the composer
made a mystery-thriller home movie with
his children. The Australia Ensemble
perform the slightly more avant-garde
but still pretty accessible Refractions.
This is a work inspired by "images of
light on water" - rather more energetically
and spikily than in, say, Gavin Bryars'
The Green Ray, his saxophone
concerto, written in response to a similar
phenomenon. The third movement, with
David Pereira's pizzicato cello to the
fore, is particularly effective. The
twelve-minute Entomology, is
unsurprisingly accompanied by an environmental
sound recording from the New South Wales
bush with some insect noises sampled
and played back as instrumentation.
This reminded me a little of, for those
who know it, David Byrne and Brian Eno's
classic sampler album My Life in
the Bush of Ghosts. Throughout this
record, Westlake cross-references his
classical training to experimental and
improvised music, always to positive
effect. On Malachite Glass, the
composer's bass clarinet shares the
stage with Synergy Percussion - like
the aforementioned Omphalo Centric
Lecture, it is constructed in a
way that makes reference to the African
balofon, the forerunner of the
modern marimba, although the jazz element
is also quite strong, as is a Pacific
After the guitars and
violin sounds of Attaca on Tall Tales
- see above - Call of the Wild
features more Australian wildlife recordings
and this time investigates "the notion
of insects as percussion generators"
set against a fairly gentle bass clarinet
line. The best, in my view, is saved
until last with the wonderfully titled
Our Mum was a Waterfall. Here
Westlake adds soprano sax to his bass
clarinet to evoke a "childhood spent
in the Australian bush" in a piece of
music Jan Garbarek could be proud of.
The work was commissioned by ABC Radio
and won the Jazz Action Society's 1985
Composition Competition. Even though
it lasts a mere six and a half minutes,
it is alone worth the price of the disc.
This is brilliant, life-affirming melodicism
at the same time far removed from what
some MusicWeb readers might reasonably
expect "classical" music to sound like.
If you love Fitkin, Eno, Garbarek et
al, you shouldn't hesitate to acquire
this lovely record.
Tall Poppies are available
or from UK distributors Seaford music