Look no further than the title. Australian Portrait is a collection of recent Australian pieces for saxophone and piano that are mostly recorded here for the first time. Alongside composers Matthew Hindson, Anne Boyd, Brenton Broadstock and Michael Smetanin are less-familiar names worth getting to know: Andrew Batterham and Mark Zadro. It’s a diverse and compelling set from the Sydney-based HD Duo.
The repertoire ranges from breezy post-minimalism and jazz-inflected tunes to meatier fare with the emphasis on the melodic and rhythmic interplay between the two players. Hindson’s Repetepetition is a buoyant opener that matches the confident flair of Batterham’s Duke’s Crusade. Broadstock’s Not too near … not too far is uncharacteristically bouncy for a composer best known for his bold and elegiac orchestral works. Equally surprising is Anne Boyd’s edgy Ganba which, unlike her more meditative pieces, isn’t afraid to let off steam, its raucous sax calls inspired by Indigenous responses to early steam trains. Likewise the Smetanin is gritty and chiseled, setting out as a sort of demonic warm-up exercise before easing into more florid climes. The disc concludes with an extended suite by Mark Zadro that fuses a kind of angular jazz with crisp colouristic passages.
Australian Portrait is a significant and sober offering from HD Duo, whose playing is first-rate. The pair work together very well and have a clear rapport, united in their enthusiasm for championing new work by top-notch locals.
The recording itself could be a little more sympathetic and the instruments sound a little terse at times. Nonetheless HD is to be lauded for this very solid addition to the Australian canon.