The Mexican Connection
Gabriela ORTIZ (b. 1964)
Mambo Ninón
All at Sevens and Eights
Lilia Vázquez KUNTZE (b. 1955)
Sendero Naciente
Catherine LIKHUTA (b. 1981)
The Secrets of Water
Enrico CHAPELA (b. 1974)
Arturo MARQUEZ (b. 1950)  
Danzón No.6–Puerto Calvario
Miriama YOUNG
This Earthly Round
Alan Ahued NAIME
Brain Freeze
(Sphenopalatine Ganglioneuralgia) [1:32]
Mauricio CASTAÑO
HD Duo (Michael Duke (saxophones); David Howie (piano))
rec. Verbrugghen Hall, Sydney Conservatoire of Music, Sydney University, December 2015, February 2016. DDD
CALA CACD77021 [72:22]

This disc emerged from an Australian Government-funded scheme under which this duo toured Australia and Mexico giving concerts that included new works written by composers from both countries. The same duo has a track record in this field having also released via Cala a similar Australian portrait in 2013 (review).

Mexican composer Gabriela Ortiz's Mambo Ninón was inspired by Ninón Sevilla, born in Cuba but who made quite an impact as an alluring film-star in Mexico. Sevilla died in 2015 at the age of 93. This rhapsodic piece flies along, becomes becalmed and then takes to the wing again. It's not especially sultry. A New Zealander making his way in London, Paul Sarcich designed the booklet and is Publishing and Technical Manager with Cala. His All at Sevens and Eights uses the woody tones of the tenor sax. It's a driving piece yet with indulged inclinations to muse mournfully (3:42).

Lilia Vázquez Kuntze's Sendero Naciente is in three movements: Freely and with great expression; Slowly but flowing; Rhythmic and playful. It's the only multiple movement piece here and one can imagine it working well as a "pocket" concerto. The triptych runs to about ten minutes. Kuntze was a student of Xenakis and Donatoni in Germany. This is a rhapsodic piece, tonal with good substantive ideas deployed thoughtfully across the dreamy first two movements. The finale is attractive without being wildly energetic. Kuntze's succinct yet emotion-disclosing invention has you wanting to go back to replay the piece.

Catherine Likhuta's The Secrets of Water is confrontational - no obvious charmer this, and certainly not one that goes with the more axiomatic liquid delights of water. The note tells us that the music is intended to capture water's more murderous aspects including disasters, floods, tsunamis, drownings, killers of the deep, crashes and shipwrecks. It's that kind of piece with a selection of modern techniques to ruffle feathers. For Enrico Chapela's Spectrax the composer received recordings of Duke's multiphonics on the sax. Chapela went ahead and analysed these and began to improvise around them prior to the premiere in Mexico City in 2015. It's a piece dusted with avant-garde effects but done with humour: try the galumphing fantasy at 2:30.

Arturo Marquez's Danzón No.6–Puerto Calvario leads us submissively away from such experiments with this slip-sliding, wailing and poetic seducer of a dance fantasy. It should go down well with admirers of Piazzolla's tangos. Miriama Young's This Earthly Round is delightful and original with a sort of slow, piercing, urgent mournfulness about it. It's one of the highest points of this disc, fully exploring its engaging material. Then follow three very short student pieces arising from the Duo's tour to Mexico City. Jimena Maldonado's Tremor trembles and rises upwards, inhabiting the sombre reaches of Nyman's Where the Bee Dances. This is followed by Alan Ahued Naime's catchily titled and kitted out Brain Freeze (Sphenopalatine Ganglioneuralgia) which is insistent, raw and hectic. Mauricio Castaño's Angkor makes for a brusquely imaginative farewell.

Nicely documented and presenting a strong audio image, this is well worth dipping into. Be aware that this presents a very wide variety of styles from limpid to what even today sounds experimental. Future contenders in competitions should certainly get this as it will introduce stimulating works that shake off the usual suspects.

Rob Barnett

Cala Records