Learn How

Help improve All About Jazz

Support All About Jazz All About Jazz needs your help and we have a deal. For $20, we'll hide those pesky Google ads and present exclusive content for a full year!

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 Bobby Hutcherson tribute at SFJAZZ Center Live Reviews Bobby Hutcherson tribute at SFJAZZ Center
by David Becker
Published: January 24, 2017
Read ECM Showcase at NYC Winter Jazzfest 2017 Live Reviews ECM Showcase at NYC Winter Jazzfest 2017
by Tyran Grillo
Published: January 22, 2017
Read An Evening with Pat Metheny at The Barre Opera House Live Reviews An Evening with Pat Metheny at The Barre Opera House
by Doug Collette
Published: January 20, 2017
Read Houston Person at Kiawah Island, South Carolina Live Reviews Houston Person at Kiawah Island, South Carolina
by Rob Rosenblum
Published: January 10, 2017
Read Buenos Aires Jazz Festival 2016 Live Reviews Buenos Aires Jazz Festival 2016
by Mark Holston
Published: January 9, 2017
Read "Buenos Aires Jazz Festival 2016" Live Reviews Buenos Aires Jazz Festival 2016
by Mark Holston
Published: January 9, 2017
Read "Vossa Jazz 2016" Live Reviews Vossa Jazz 2016
by Ian Patterson
Published: April 1, 2016
Read "Miles Electric Band at SFJAZZ" Live Reviews Miles Electric Band at SFJAZZ
by Harry S. Pariser
Published: June 26, 2016
Read "Lloyd Gregory And Tony Lindsay at Biscuits & Blues" Live Reviews Lloyd Gregory And Tony Lindsay at Biscuits & Blues
by Walter Atkins
Published: December 22, 2016

Post a comment

comments powered by Disqus

Get Jazz Near You via email!

Enjoy the convenience of receiving a comprehensive listing of jazz events in your area every Thursday. It's free!