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Nigel WESTLAKE (b. 1958)

Onomatopoeia (1984)
Omphalo Centric Lecture (1984)
Refractions (1993)
Entomology (1990) 4
Malachite Glass (1990)
Tall Tales (1992) *
Call of the Wild (1992)
Our Mum was a Waterfall (1992)
Nigel Westlake, clarinets/saxophones
Michael Askill, percussion
Australia Ensemble
Tall Poppies Ensemble 4
Synergy Percussion
Greg Sheehan, drums
Recorded at EMI Studio 301, Sydney, Australia (date not given, disc released 1994)
TALL POPPIES TP047 [65.10]

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 Rim feel.

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 from ( or from UK distributors Seaford music (

Neil Horner

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