Concept albums sometimes collapse from their own weight, their seriousness an albatross that restrains creativity. Clarinetist François Houle is too accomplished a player to be tied down by concept, and this remarkable two-CD set inspired by the Canadian ice storm of 1998 avoids the obvious traps. The title, Au Coeur du Litage, roughly translates as "the heart of the matter," by which Houle means that the storm dug deep, devastatingly so. By utilizing voices, turntables, electronic manipulation, and his own clarinets, he creates a sort of impressionistic sound montage that incorporates news clips with spacy, atmospheric escapades. The clarinet's high pitch perfectly depicts the icy bluster and the havoc caused by the storm. Houle is a master musician who boasts a prodigious technique and a wide vision. While this is a more esoteric project than he usually participates on, it is stimulating fare that encompasses commodious swatches of color, with electronics, percussion, electric guitar, and clarinets hurled into the brew. While at times the going gets harsh and rough (as on "Watt," for example), these are the exceptions and mostly there is an expansive mood that vaguely recalls the isolation, loneliness, and desolation of the storm's devastation. Even divorced from the storm's theme, this imaginary soundtrack stands on its own, with fascinating textures and a splendid show of clarinet finesse.
AllMusic Review by Steve Loewy