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François Houle, Richard Johnson François Houle, Richard Johnson
photo Susan Clarke
Despite a recent change in ownership it is good to see that Smith’s Alternative Bookshop in Canberra City continues to present live music events of the kind that distinguishes this venue from others in Canberra.

As a flow-on from the annual SoundOut festival of improvised music, this one-off performance brought together a small cross-section of open-minded music fans into the intimate confines of Smith’s to hear Canadian improviser François Houle perform a set with clarinet, electronics and piano followed by a collaborative performance with Canberra wind trio Psithurium.

Focusing on a series of shorter pieces that cohered around an atmospheric central theme, Houle began by coaxing from the clarinet a sequence of sharply defined minimal clusters with an intended progression somewhat like saxophonist John Butcher’s pastel sparseness that was all the rage for a time.

Houle is a leading light in contemporary improvised music having performed with such luminaries as pianist Marilyn Crispell and saxophonist Evan Parker. His enthusiasm throughout this performance flowed through to his use of loops, also involving a piano’s innards, providing an harmonic expansiveness somewhat like Evan Parker’s famous circular breathing technique. At points, Houle offered evocative autobiographical detail for the audience to better understand the mood and shape of each piece. One that stood out was a mournful and celebratory tribute to free music clarinettist John Carter. Throughout this spontaneously conceived homage, Houle’s clarinet was devotional yet not excessively so, a cool restraint ensuring the impact of the music was heightened by a settled and respectful delivery.

In his second set Houle was joined by Psithurium featuring SoundOut festival director Richard Johnson on soprano sax and customised gourd. This fully improvised piece had each of the performers brightly colouring a spontaneous theme that ebbed and flowed. No one participant took charge which created ample space for free exploration with discipline and restraint.

The combination of saxophones, gourd and clarinet rolled out the music in a gentle, unhurried manner, with resonating sounds within the bookshop providing a striking acoustic counterpoint to the traffic whizzing by outside.


François Houle and the Psithurium Wind Trio, Smith’s Alternative Bookshop, SoundOut 2014, Canberra City, 7 Feb

RealTime issue #120 April-May 2014 pg. 46

© Dan Bigna; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

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