2

François Houle 5+1: Montreal, Canada, July 3, 2012

Sara Villa By

Sign in to view read count
François Houle 5+1
Casa del Popolo
Montréal, Québec
July 3, 2012

Wild strawberries. This was the taste of clarinetist François Houle's 5+1 performance at Casa del Popolo, presenting his group's just-released Genera (Songlines, 2012). Why wild strawberries? Because the entire two sets had both the fresh and savory, yet also spicy and untamed flavor of the Québecois berries which ripen in this summer season, and the sophisticated, refined and sensitive texture of a music that recalled the emotional complexity of Dr. Isak Borg, the protagonist of Ingmar Bergman's 1957 cinematic masterpiece, Wild Strawberries.

How could two such seemingly distant sensations coexist in a single sonic, performance experience? Here's an example. "Essay #7" was realized through a constant and intriguing back-and-forth between Taylor Ho Bynum's abstractly ironic cornet inserts—backed by an energetic crescendo of low notes on Samuel Blaser's trombone— and the smooth silkiness of Houle's clarinet phrasings, developing together with pianist Benoit Delbecq's energy-filled passages, creating the overall seductive sensation of an incoming thunderstorm. The rhythm section commented on this intertwined duality with the powerful presence of a Greek tragedy chorus.

Bynum's cornet, muted with a CD, followed drummer Harris Eisenstadt's sudden, caffeinated rim shots, and was accompanied by a bitingly percussive series of harmonic changes by double bassist Michael Bates. Houle and Delbecq went on, with a texture of growing melodic and rhythmical complexity that felt as natural and liberating as a reverie. What was so surprising, throughout the whole set, was the perfectly intertwined and balanced coexistence, in a single piece, of utterly different jazz styles.

In "Le Concombre de Chicoutimi I," Delbecq's minimalist and elegiac piano intro opened the way for a powerful, forte central section, dominated by an intricate series of exchanges between trombone, clarinet and flugelhorn. Every single note—every solo, impromptu passage—seemed fitting in an uncannily reined-in way, while leaving, at the same time, a sensation of unpredictabilityand wilderness—just like those serendipitously discovered strawberries at the darker corner of a wood path, in Bergman's film.

The joyfully atonal "Old Paradigm" was built on the overlapping alternation of fast, squeaky and juicy notes with sudden shouted brass squeals on cornet and trombone. A series of single piano keys filled the air, as calibrated as Bauhaus fonts on a page, while Houle's clarinet thumped, scaled, glided and glowed with warm fortissimos.

The technical virtuosity and emotional force of Houle's group was based on a mix of peculiar musical identities, enhanced and increasingly singular and distinguishable within the band. It was a formation where the musicians' individual signatures could shine while, at the same time, connecting harmoniously. This may be one of the reasons why the group's two sets at Casa del Popolo were highly sophisticated and playfully ironic, and included onstage mirroring techniques and sudden jokes, like when Blaser satirically followed Bates' touchingly romantic solo, whispered con arco, with a slow and repeated note that sounded like a happy cow on a Swiss pasture.

In the context of freedom, friendship and cameraderie in which this group thrives, Houle's mastery of the clarinet, the embracing quality of his tone and the gracefulness of his compositions became even more appreciable in the dialogue ignited within a group where all the musicians fit together like the perfectly matching pieces of a puzzle.

Shop

More Articles

Read Panama Jazz Festival 2017 Live Reviews Panama Jazz Festival 2017
by Mark Holston
Published: February 21, 2017
Read Foundation of Funk at Cervantes Masterpiece Ballroom Live Reviews Foundation of Funk at Cervantes Masterpiece Ballroom
by Geoff Anderson
Published: February 20, 2017
Read The Cookers at Nighttown Live Reviews The Cookers at Nighttown
by C. Andrew Hovan
Published: February 16, 2017
Read Monty Alexander Trio at Longwood Gardens Live Reviews Monty Alexander Trio at Longwood Gardens
by Geno Thackara
Published: February 15, 2017
Read "Nik Bärtsch’s Mobile at the Rubin Museum of Art" Live Reviews Nik Bärtsch’s Mobile at the Rubin Museum of Art
by Tyran Grillo
Published: June 7, 2016
Read "Mary Ellen Desmond: Comfort and Joy Concert 2016" Live Reviews Mary Ellen Desmond: Comfort and Joy Concert 2016
by Victor L. Schermer
Published: December 17, 2016
Read "Snarky Puppy at the Electric Factory" Live Reviews Snarky Puppy at the Electric Factory
by Asher Wolf
Published: May 26, 2016
Read "Redwood City Salsa Festival 2016" Live Reviews Redwood City Salsa Festival 2016
by Walter Atkins
Published: September 29, 2016
Read "TD Ottawa Jazz Festival 2016" Live Reviews TD Ottawa Jazz Festival 2016
by John Kelman
Published: July 3, 2016
Read "The Hot Sardines at Central Park Summerstage" Live Reviews The Hot Sardines at Central Park Summerstage
by Ernest Barteldes
Published: July 1, 2016

Post a comment

comments powered by Disqus

Sponsor: Jazz Near You | GET IT  

Support our sponsor

Support All About Jazz's Future

We need your help and we have a deal. Contribute $20 and we'll hide the six Google ads that appear on every page for a full year!

Buy it!