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Canadian, Vancouver-based clarinet player François Houle formed a dream-team for his new album «Recoder». House wanted to play with drummer Gerry Hemingway since he heard him playing with the legendary Anthony Braxton Quartet back in the eighties. Both are joined by long-time comrades – double bass player Mark Helias (who plays with Hemingway in the BassDrumBone trio), who plays here also on clarinet, and guitarist Gordon Grdina.

Houle’s compositions for «Recoder» integrate ideas and elements inspired by the chamber jazz of Jimmy Guiffre Trio’s seminal albums «Fusion and Thesis» (reissued by ECM, 1992, as «1961»), Anthony Braxton writings, the orchestral ideas of Miroslav Vitous’ album «Universal Syncopations» (ECM, 2003, featuring Jan Garbarek, John McLaughlin, and Jack DeJohnette), traditional Persian music, and uoting from Olivier Messiaen’s sixth movement of «Quartet for the End of Time» and Igor Shostakovich’s «String Quartet No. 8». All these – coded – quite cerebral, structural compositional strategies are re-coded in order to trigger a wide range of evocative emotions, moving from peaceful and often melancholic contemplation to urgent turmoil. «Recoder» includes a set of seven short, free-improvised, clarinet tone-poem duets of Houle and Helias. The album is dedicated to Houle’s brother who battles with a virulent form of brain cancer and includes a composition in memory of the late artistic director of Vancouver Jazz Festival, Ken Pickering.

Houle wanted to have a set of focused and succinct compositions, but eventually, his compelling ideas still play with few, sometimes contrasting structural elements, even on the compositions focused on the contemplative, lyrical side. Such compositions are the chamber «Prelude» with its Middle-Eastern colors, the serene and unsettling «Bowen», dedicate to Pickering and his partner Christine Fedina, who built a house on Bowen Island, with its references to the «Quartet for the End of Time», or the enigmatic and sparse «Morning Song 1», dedicated to poet Ted Byrne, and titled after one of his short poems. The more urgent compositions like «The Black Bird», the title-piece, and «Baseline» offer a broader framework that highlights the depth and the immediacy of the distinct musical vocabularies of all four musicians, all enjoy the generous space given for improvisation. Houle plays with a natural, warm voice, flowing with melodic inventions. Hemingway and Helias charge his ideas with unstoppable, propulsive rhythmic drive but also with imaginative, chamber atmosphere. Grdina interplay with Houle is almost telepathic and he knows how to enrich Houle’s melodic gestures with playful exotic lines and scales.

An impressive work experience that calls for repeated, attentive listening.

Eyal Hareuveni

François Houle (cl), Gordon Grdina (g), Mark Helias (b, cl), Gerry Hemingway (dr)

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