‘America keeping secrets,’ whispered tenor Thomas Buckner, ‘keeping secrets’. The unison chant of the accompanying bass clarinet, viola and electric guitar were equally hushed as composer Erik Griswold made a pointed comment on Wikileaks in his dramatic Mendax Redacts. The work was one of two Australian world premieres performed by the Montreal-New York Quartet at the opening night of their Australian tour.


The quartet featured a collaboration of four all-stars from the international new music scene: baritone Thomas Buckner, viola player Pemi Paull, bass clarinettist Lori Freedman and electric guitarist Tim Brady. The unusual combination of instruments made a surprisingly well-balanced ensemble. The players were well attuned to each other and equally proficient playing the complex notated music in Brady’s Road Songs as when channelling their own creativity in the interpretation of Christian Wolff’s graphic score Edges.


Brady’s guitar gave a contemporary edge to the group, most overtly in John Encarnacao’s No Direction Home. This was the second Australian work on the program, a curiously compelling mix of distorted guitar, viola and bass clarinet rock riffs underscoring refugee stories.


Paull’s viola brought warmth to the ensemble with improvisations characterised by mutterings, scoops and insistent attack.  Lori Freedman’s impressive fluidity paired with her experimental ingenuity was a highlight, especially in Brady’s Improvisations for Bass Clarinet. Buckner’s vocalese of growls, gags, and splutters were engrossing. His muddy diction and loose vibrato made it hard to comprehend the text but his emotional account of Annea Lockwood’s For Richard was delivered with intense sonority.


Cage’s FOUR6 required the performers to improvise music within set time slots. The quartet’s improvisations included tapping on strings, vocal overtones and vocalising into instruments which, while lacking the flair of recent Cage performances by Decibel ensemble, gave a moody intensity to the work. The ability to communicate their emotional commitment was the bedrock to this successful ensemble and their interpretation of new music.
This review copyright The West Australian 2014.