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Australian Portrait
Repetepetition (2010) [4:06]
Duke’s Crusade (2003) [7:54]
Ganba (2010) [12:38]
Not too near…not too far (2005) [12:03]
If Stars are Lit (2010) [9:05]
X Suite (2009) [25:32]
HD Duo: Michael Duke (saxophones); David Howie (piano)
rec. September 2010, Recital Hall West, Sydney Conservatorium of Music
CALA CACD 77013 [71:18]

If you wanted to gauge the stylistic variety on offer in contemporary Australian saxophone music you could do an awful lot worse than lend an ear to this discriminating and excellently performed selection. Six composers are represented and all the works are either very recent - composed around 2009 and 2010 - or just a few years earlier than that.
Matthew Hindson’s Repetepetition offers a clue in its title as to the etude-like ideas at work in his repetition conceit - in this case, addition or subtraction, musically speaking. Originally written for solo violin it has been reworked for soprano saxophone and piano very adeptly and starts the recital in a taut, frolicsome way laced with terpsichorean freedom. The oldest of the six pieces is Andrew Batterham’s 2003 Duke’s Crusade, written specifically for the alto sax. The slow introduction is followed by rolling boogie-like lines before a slow, meditative panel occupies a movingly reflective central panel. This thoughtful piece is highly effective. Anne Boyd’s Ganba (2010) requires the use of the baritone sax and is a landscape picture utilising Aboriginal legend. The insistent baritone and the tense piano offer interesting sonic balances and the fierce, jagged writing that ensues equally so. A mournful lament duly follows but this sonically vibrant and rhythmically energetic work ends with rolling steam train vitality - with hooting whistle, perhaps?
Brenton Broadstock is one of the most well-known of the six composers and contributes Not too near…not too far which is, in places, reminiscent of Poulenc. The clearly demarcated sections are marked by exuberance, and also by haunting intimacy. For lovers of such things - I stand up to be counted - there’s a brief slap-tongued moment that takes me right back to early Jazz. Michael Smetanin’s If Stars Are Lit employs pitch bending to good effect and rippling piano underlies the alto’s escapades; it’s full of charge, atmosphere, and attractively distributed lines. Finally there is the longest single piece, Mark Zadro’s X Suite. Again this exemplifies qualities shared by all the pieces in this programme; variety, timbral allure, clever proportions, and appropriate choice of saxophone register. Zadro has the time to cross-reference material from earlier parts of this eight-section work. He also employs multiphonics, as well as percussive saxophone effects. None of these are frivolous and all add to the layering of tone and texture. 

HD Duo - aka Michael Duke (saxophones) and David Howie (piano) - prove laudable exponents of this sheaf of new music. I’m sure a number will - let’s hope all will - stick around in the contemporary repertoire for a good time to come.
Jonathan Woolf