Saturday, August 10, 2013

Floating On Wings

François Houle and Håvard Wiik

François Houle - Clarinet
Håvard Wiik - Piano

I first came across Francois Houle in the late nineties with In The Vernacular (Songlines), his tribute to John Carter, and his work on Hornet’s Collage (Nuscope), a trio recording with Scott Fields and Jason Roebke. He excels in a variety of settings; his recording Genera (Songlines) was an overlooked gem of 2012.

Havard Wiik is probably best known for his work in Atomic, a group that for me has never equaled the sum of its parts, for whatever reason. However, he’s impressive in the Jimmy Giuffre-inspired Free Fall trio, and he added an interesting layer to the Vandermark 5 on The Horse Jumps and The Ship Is Gone (Not Two).

Aves, a studio recording, came about after a successful concert at the 2011 Vancouver International Jazz Festival. There’s a lot of music to digest, almost 70 minutes across 14 tracks. Houle composed five pieces, Wiik three, and five are free improvisations. The remaining track, Letter to Gyorgy L., was composed by Benoit Delbecq.

There’s a nice variety of moods on Aves, from playful to somber, and Wiik and Houle are perfectly in sync throughout. Each finishes the other’s thoughts, and you feel that you’re being included in a private conversation. One of many nice aspects to this album is the space each gives the other for individual statements during the performances. When they come back together, it heightens the richness they create. Think of a perfect Fall day, when you can feel the crispness in the air and the seasonal colors are on display. That’s the imagery this CD brought to mind, no mean feat when it’s 105 degrees outside!

Houle’s tone and articulation on the clarinet are unmatched. My one quibble is the flute sound he achieves on one track, so close to the real thing I had to check the liner notes to make sure he wasn’t doubling. While it doesn’t reduce the impact of the overall album, it’s not particularly compelling either.

Wiik is a virtual encyclopedia of post-modern jazz piano, while nicely mixing 20th century classical influences. He’s lyrical one moment, jagged and angular the next. It never comes across as pastiche, however, just appropriate to the context.

It’s a credit to both artists that the free tracks stand up versus those based on compositions, and the whole recording is a cohesive body of music. For fans of the Giuffre trio or chamber jazz in general, this is as good as it gets.

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