François Houle

Cryptology

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Seven of the eight pieces share the unusual instrumentation of clarinet, trumpet (or piano), cello, electric guitar, and violin. (A second violin is added on one tune.) Those familiar with Houle's European lens or with the sophisticated sounds favored by the label, Between the Lines, will not be surprised by the unique blend of densely abstract harmonies that permeate many of his pieces. These compositions require concentrated listening; they are multi-layered, with multiple directions. Divorced from traditional small group formulations, there is a sibylline quality throughout. (Houle describes his compositional process as relying on complex devices that are ultimately transformed through improvisation. He lists dozens of essential words related to his processes in, naturally, cryptic form, which will mean little to the average, or even above-average listener; cute, but no cigar.) Individually, there are celebratory escapades that unite the pieces. Percussionist Dylan Van Der Schyff, in particular, and cellist Peggy Lee gloriously shoot forth paroxysms of fractured riffs, but Houle seems more melodic, or at least less interrupted. At times it all explodes, in a sort of popular way. Whether Houle intends any of it to be understood is beside the point: There are joys to be unearthed. Third Stream meets Dr. Jeckyll?

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