New review from The Whole Note sept/Oct 2015 issue

 

Sept 1 - Oct 7, 2015 | pp. 69-70

by Max Christie

Sassicaia

François Houle; Jane Hayes
Redshift Records TK438 (redshiftmusic. org)

Zarabandeo
François Houle; Jane Hayes

Afterday AA1501 (francoishoule.ca)

The versatile Vancouver-based duo Sea and Sky consists of clarinetist François Houle and pianist Jane Hayes. They have released a pair of CDs: Sassicaia features

current Canadian compositions, many of them commissioned by the duo; the other, Zarabandeo, is a collection of pieces in, for want of a better word, Latin style. Both collec- tions are compelling, and both demonstrate the considerable interpretive strengths of this seasoned ensemble. Releasing them together makes sense. It lends a weight to the enter- prise that might be missing if one or the other had come out alone. They are set against one another by contrast, not similarity.

The title track on the Canadian collec-
tion is by Bruce Mather, who has named a number of works for impressive wines. His pointillist and microtonal piece is both gravel terroir and heady bouquet. It is a contempla- tive, mysterious centerpiece to the disc. Owen Underhill’s Duotone features pointillism and microtones as well, and also the captivating clarinet double tones that Houle demon- strates with mastery.

Less effective to me is the headbanger by Keith Hamel entitled Cyclone. Intended to depict the energy of the weather event, its heavy base and static quality forced my ear into shelter. As unfortunate an inclusion as that piece is, the meditation that begins immediately following in Paul Dolden’s Eternal Return of a Ritual Form serves

as balm that quickly turns to hallucino- genic drug. Dolden spins a basic repetitive formula into nervous dervishness. Cleverly constructed as a kind of maniacal passa- caglia, the 17-minute piece keeps the listener wondering “what next?” When a free improv section gives way to a drum solo, before one can think “OH NO!” it heads on into mad variation X. A gradual disintegration should lead to a calm coda, but instead, every-

thing is all insect buzz and numb desolation. Quite a trip.

The opening track
of the other disc
provides the title. Not
your parents’ sara-
bande, Zarabandeo is
by Mexican composer
Arturo Marquez.
Following this tuneful
and romantic rondo form are two effective short works by Cuban clarinetist/composer Paquito D’Rivera. Featured also are works
by Argentinians Carlos Guastavino and the tango master Astor Piazzolla. In Ravel’s Pièce en forme de Habanera Houle shows a nice touch, though here he doesn’t meet the style standard set by the remarkable Jane Hayes, whose work on this second album is full of character and verve. Houle includes two takes of Piazzolla’s haunting nocturne Oblivion (he emulates many jazzers here and gives us two interesting improvised intros to the piece). I don’t agree that Two Majorcan Pieces quali- fies for inclusion. For me the rest of the collection is utterly charming and substan- tial enough without Joseph Horovitz’ ersatz Spanishism. Houle lets his sound go in playing this material, allowing his jazz chops to take some focus away from his tone. No one 

else will likely quibble with that and I can just suffer my envy of his slap tongue in silence.