Acclaimed Canadian clarinetist and composer François Houle's blog. Find live performances, experimental electroacoustic, and commercial soundtrack work by Houle. This blog features, full on audio and video experience, as well as an e-store where you'll be able to purchase his music, scores, etc.
Thrilled to be Artist/composer-in-residence at Memorial University this coming week. I am preparing myself for a special treat; a whole evening of my music performed by faculty and students, as well as presenting the keynote address for the conference. Thanks to Ellen Waterman for all her hard work setting this up. Over a year in the making!!!
“The threesome navigated through a wider landscape of sound with meandering lyrical passages, encircling eerie plateaus and sudden about-turns into wild abysses triggering raucous rides and accumulation of sound that went hazy and eventually dissolved…”
– Henning Bolte, AllAboutJazz, (Reviewing A Performance Of Grdina/Houle/Loewen At Jazztopad 2016)
But when they added Benoît Delbecq the music became something else again. François Houle explains: “As Benoît and I were looking at opportunities for the duo [established in 1996], Ken Pickering [Vancouver jazz festival artistic director] suggested we merge this with the trio collective [formed in 2014, though its members have been performing in different Grdina groups since around 2004]. Knowing how Benoît’s playing fits into so many different configurations, I thought this would work nicely. I suggested he bring his bass station to augment the lower end of the quartet.” Two performances at the 2015 festival led to a return engagement in 2016 followed by a day in the studio. “The whole session unfolded quite spontaneously, with hardly any discussion between takes. Gord suggested we play my piece ‘Soro’ as he knew Benoît’s affinity for African rhythms in his piano approach. Benoît brought out “Broken World”, written shortly after the terrorist attack at the Bataclan in Paris. We tried it and found it to be a beautiful, haunting piece. The rest was completely improvised, and took us into the most unexpected musical spaces, with generous room for all to participate in the music making.” The longest take (not on the record) went on for 31 minutes!
So this is music that takes its time, as Benoît notes: “It’s music with slow motion, with nothing spectacular or demonstrative. But delicate…We let the flow of improvisation be at play and it held us in a creative mode…I think the strength comes from the collective aspect of the craft. This is why I play music – to share some states of grace with my peers; it’s an incredible feeling to experience a common way to conceive sound fabrics collectively.” François agrees: “It speaks to the really broad scope of experiences by this collective. We can move from one musical state to the next with seemingly little effort, while trusting that the others will not only anticipate the next move, but also pave the way for this to happen at any given moment.”
In music like this, texture is as important as structure, and electronics play their role in Gord’s playing, which features rich-sounding octave-doubling. François uses loopers to similar effect: “I’m interested in opening up the vertical range of the clarinet and treating it as a chordal instrument rather than a monophonic one. I consider my work with loops a sort of extension of my playing with two clarinets simultaneously.” Benoît doesn’t employ his looping software here, but his bass station has its own sensuous sine waves and filters: “It’s just a basic (two oscillators) analog synth made by Novation in the early 90s. I mostly use it in the lower register and I love the feel of it. I’ve always liked the mixture of electronics and ‘bio’ sounds such as prepared piano or regular piano…What I like in how the guys play is that we all sound like we’re processed even when we might not be using electronics, because our concern for sound production is very advanced.”
“Waraba” is dedicated to the late bassist (and kora and sanza player) Jean-Jacques Avenel, whose 2004 west African jazz release on Songlines, Waraba, Benoît produced. Benoît started working with JJ in 1998, and JJ was a member of the trio Delbecq 3 The Sixth Jump from 2008 until his death. “Anyone who played with Jean-Jacques and shared his love for African music has been deeply imprinted by JJ’s joy, expertise, and world-class musicianship…I still feel his presence when I play, and when I vamp layers on the prepared piano I could keep going forever, like Manding musicians who have another idea of time and duration in music…All of us in this band are strongly related with traditional music from all continents, and the momentum of the music we played found itself naturally.”
“Waraba” ends the record on a hopeful and almost joyous or at least somewhat peaceful note, but the music has moved though many other spaces to get there. The aesthetic is liminal: music that’s on the verge of becoming something else, crossing boundaries that are undefined and intuitive. This applies to the subtle way instruments and instrumental lines merge and separate, the range of harmony/atonality, rhythmic and energetic aspects (from near-stasis to turbulence), different emotional resonances – and finally the way the music engages the listener’s attention in a play of foreground/background, active listening and trance-like immersion.
Novara Jazz is a special event. I've had the pleasure of performing here last year at the City Archives and Beldi Park, with Samuel Blaser and the crazy wonderful Italians Alessandro Fedrigo, Nicola Fazzini, and Luca Colussi of Hyper + trio.
the rotunda at Basilica of San Gaudenzio
Beldi Park, post concert 2016
This year Gordon Grdina's Haram takes Centre stage (Broletto) along with Grdina/Houle Loewen (sala DEL compasso), Add hoc sets by JP Carter, Jesse Zubot, Emad Armoush, Tim Gerwing, Liam MacDonald, and Chris Kelly round out the Canadian presence Here.
From the depths of Vancouver’s rich avant-garde improvisational music community, comes the phenomenal culture-mashing juggernaut that is Haram. This power-house ensemble, half studied in the Arabic tradition, and half who cut their teeth in Canada's improv/indie/rock/jazz scene, is led by Juno Award-winning GORDON GRDINA (Dan Mangan) who, for the Haram project, trades in his guitar for Iraqi oud.
Haram pays homage to traditional Arabic music while mixing elements of noise, electronic soundscape, and western free improv into their explosively self-expressive sound. The ensemble is formed of creative heavy-hitters:
— GORDON GRDINA: IRAQI OUD (Dan Mangan, Mats Gustafsson, Mark Helias, Gary Peacock, Paul Motian) — JP CARTER: TRUMPET (The Inhabitants, Destroyer, Fond Of Tigers, Dan Mangan) — JESSE ZUBOT: VIOLIN (Tanya Tagaq, Hawksley Workman, Fond Of Tigers) — KENTON LOEWEN: DRUMS (Dan Mangan, The Crackling, Jerry Granelli) — TOMMY BABIN: BASS (Paul Plimley, Now Orchestra, Sendero Luminoso) — FRANÇOIS HOULE: CLARINET (Composer and trailblazing improviser & soloist) — CHRIS KELLY: SAXOPHONE (Now Orchestra, Eye of Newt) — TIM GERWING & LIAM MACDONALD: PERCUSSION — and EMAD ARMOUSH: Syrian VOCALIST extraordinaire
Their music, developed over time, has reached that sublime state of effortless cohesion while retaining its sense of wild abandon. The repertoire begins with Iraqi folk music and ends at the mid-century era of Egyptian radio music. Traditional pieces are blown wide open. The group takes classic Arabic music from great composers like Farid Al-Atrache, Abdul Whahab and Oum Khalsoum, and filters them through Vancouver's creative improvising community. It's invigorating to watch the group constantly shifting directions while building to euphoric crescendos.
Haram plays a repertoire that has been revered by millions over decades, conjuring an immense sense of respect and homage, while remaining explosively self-expressive. This unique ensemble is for anyone interested in exciting, cross-cultural, boundary-annihilating music.
“The musics backbone is traditional, but wild outbursts of free improvisation and subtle injections of noise make it quite unlike anything you'd hear in the shisha dens of Cairo or Baghdad… ...Gordon Grdina is both a skilled and slippery performer on the oud and a fiercely inventive noise guitarist” — THE GEORGIA STRAIGHT ___________
Haram — das ist ein zehnköpfiges, kulturenverbindendes Musikspektakel aus Kanada geleitet von Juno Award-Gewinner Gordon Grdina (Dan Mangan). Haram bringt Vancouver’s Avantgard-Indie-Rock-Jazz-Artists und Connaisseure der östlichen Musik zusammen und damit die Musik grosser arabischer Komponisten wie Farid Al-Atrache, Abdul Whahab, and Oum Khalsoum auf neue Ebenen. Die traditionelle arabische Musik wird dabei mit Elementen wie Noise, elektronischen Klängen und der westlichen freien Improvisation angereichert, umfährt jeglichen Kitsch weitläufig und sorgt mit Leidenschaft und Innovation für absolute Gänsehautmomente.
Taste-Tips: Haram, Live at the Vogue Theater:
Gordon Grdina's Haram Vogue Theatre Vancouver International Jazz Festival 2013 - YouTube
Gordon Grdina - Raqs Al Jamal (Red Couch) - YouTube
Gathering momentum from fall performances at the Guelph Jazz Festival, Something Else in Hamilton, Bar Robo in Ottawa, La Passe in Montreal, and Wrocław's Jazztopad Festival in Poland, the trio has just recorded an exhilarating live performance at Vancouver's China Cloud on March 3rd. Media wizard Lee Hutzulak was there to capture the group on video, and engineer Mark Lawrence did an unreal job to make sure we'd get an amazing recording.
We have upcoming performances in Vancouver, Italy, France, and Belgium as part of a Canada Council funded tour with Gordon Grdina's HARAM. In the fall we'll be appearing in Canada and Eastern USA to celebrate our new CD releases and videos. Visit my calendar page for dates and venues.
Grdina-Houle-Loewen is also preparing a tour in 2018-19, a collaboration with Canadian composer, San Francisco resident Linda Bouchard. We'll be presenting our trio music along with Bouchard's fantastic multi-media work "All Caps No Space"
Grdina-Houle-Loewen live @ Jazztopad November 2016. Forum for New Music, Wrocław, Poland
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