Lennox Theatre, February 7


Musicians may congregate in metropolises and vie for scant playing opportunities, but they also form communities that cohere like families – largely minus the sibling rivalry. The musicians and composers involved in the latest instalment of the Paul Cutlan String Project underscore this feeling of community, just as the music itself carries a strong sense of the leader’s humanity. Living, the second album to combine Cutlan’s reeds, Brett Hirst’s bass and a string quartet, was recorded last March, a week before the pandemic eliminated such activities, and this was the music presented here.

Paul Cutlan. Photo supplied.

The effervescent rhythmic complexity of Cutlan’s title track unspooled into Jenna Cave’s Sleep in My Arms, evoking a young mother’s bliss in nursing her newborn baby, during which Cutlan’s clarinet fashioned a soothing sonority with Hirst’s bass, before the strings swept in as gently as the rustle of a skirt. Cutlan’s arrangement of the late Jann Rutherford’s Thanks for the Espresso simmered with restrained happiness, the soprano saxophone’s coarsened grain contrasting vibrantly with the strings’ svelteness. Pianist Gary Daley was a guest on three pieces, and his own Middle of the Moment was an exceptional musical realisation of the phenomenon of achieving inner serenity amid surrounding bustle.

The centrepiece was Cutlan’s five-part suite, The Eleventh Hour, a response to the centenary of World War I, containing some of his finest writing for violinists Liisa Pallandi and Caroline Hopson, violist James Eccles and cellist Oliver Miller. Especially potent was Conflict, which deployed weapons-grade dissonances and fractured rhythms reminiscent of Shostakovich, while supremely integrating the forces of notation and improvisation. It also generated such vehement playing that the clouds of rosin flying off Eccles’ bow looked like a shell exploding when caught in the lighting, and the violist’s subsequent cadenza in Desolation was so gripping as to suggest there was more room for the strings to command the foreground. To close the concert Daley returned for an exquisite Cutlan arrangement of John Coltrane’s After the Rain – perhaps an apt depiction of the world being cleansed.