Since graduating from the Tasmanian Conservatorium in 1987, reed-playing multi-instrumentalist Paul Cutlan has worked in a wide variety of styles from contemporary classical to jazz and world music. The central work on this disc, the Across the Top suite, is inspired by his work with world music ensemble MARA! on their Musica Viva tour for schools and Indiginous groups across the North of Australia in 2007. All four works on this Tall Poppies disc are influenced by folk music, filtered through composers like Bartók, Britten, Stravinsky and Sculthorpe, and melded with the ideas and practices of jazz improvisation. This never meanders, however, but is all tightly structured and highly approachable, and is, when all’s said and done, best described as chamber music of deep purpose and clarity. Improvisation and world music, when they do occur, are used to enhance Cutlan’s compositional ideas, and his sense of tonal colour and instrumental textures are indeed highly alluring.
Those who are familiar with the NOISE string quartet’s recent set of improvised works on two CDs will have some idea of what to expect from their contributions. With Balkan specialists Llew and Mara Kiek, as well as one of Australia’s finest bassists, Brett Hirst, on board, this makes for a tightly structured and rather ingenious approach to musical cross-fertilisation within contemporary composition of a uniquely Australian kind.