Australian flautist Derek Jones’ new album Flute Perspectives opens with Peter Sculthorpe’s Songs of Sea and Sky, an adaption of a traditional dance song from Saibai, an island in Torres Strait. Originally for clarinet and piano, the music juxtaposes distinctive melodies from the region with the music of the missionaries, whose melodies and forms seeped into those of the Torres Strait Islands in the 19th century. The tension between these ideas styles is most potent in the fourth movement, Mission Hymn. A simple hymn tune in the piano, played by Leigh Harrold, is both peaceful and anachronistic against bird-like chirping and fluttering in the flute part.
Sculthorpe’s influence on Australian music was pervasive and reverberates through many of the works on this disc. A student of Sculthorpe, Barry Conyngham’s Flute alternates burbling, flourishes in the instrument’s low register with declamatory snatches of melody. Australian jazz musician Brian Brown, Sculthorpe’s contemporary, improvised the dance-like Lily’s Garden, playing through a midi channel into computer notation software. The work celebrates the birth of Lily Jones – Derek Jones’ daughter and Brown’s granddaughter. Jones’ own composition on the album, Stillness, first appeared on his self-published album Sun Down Moon Up and is also grounded in improvisation. Jones’ flute meanders over a constant, writhing Indian drone, the music punctuated at intervals by a temple bell.
Anne Boyd’s limpid Goldfish through Summer Rain has become an Australian classic. Another student of Sculthorpe’s, Boyd delicately paints the titular image with droplets of piano adorning the sinuous, aquatic flute line influenced by the Japanese shakuhachi. Mark Pollard’s Under Simple Stars, for amplified alto flute, is inspired by the night sky viewed from the beach at Mornington in Victoria. Air attacks and didgeridoo-like percussive sounds harness the resonance and rich overtones of the instrument, Jones’ smooth glissandi giving the impression of nocturnal tranquillity and space. In contrast, Phyllis Batchelor’s Sonata for Flute and Piano sounds out of place. The work’s form and material has its footing firmly in the European tradition – Jones comparing it to Hindemith and Martinů in the liner notes. That said, Batchelor’s Sonata is wonderful and deserves to be heard more often, particularly the plaintively beautiful second movement.
There is a sense of retrospective to this album, with all but three works written in the 1970s and 80s, but there is a unity in their evocation of natural scenes, coloured by influences from diverse musical traditions. Jones’ flute sound is full-bodied and meaty, with a robust athleticism in the virtuosic passages – despite moments of lost clarity in the frenetic low register passages of the Conyngham – that contrasts effectively with the reflective tone of the album. It is Jones’ alto flute playing, however, that really impresses, his performance of Pollard’s Under Simple Stars a dream-like meditation on the night sky.