François Houle/Alexander Hawkins/Harris Eisenstadt

You Have Options
Songlines SGL 1628-2

Vancouver clarinetist François Houle, Torontonian-in-Brooklyn percussionist Harris Eisenstadt and Oxford, UK-based pianist Alexander Hawkins easily reflect the promise of their CD’s title with a program that’s both poetic and propulsive. With the majority of these 10-tracks self-composed, the cooperative trio also demonstrates a rare unity for a band that plays together intermittently. While unquestionably contemporary the three are at the same time unafraid of celebrating their roots. Showcasing Houle’s measured, moderato fluidity, Charles Ives’ “Largo” is given an almost recital-straight reading. Meanwhile, despite a sophisticated veneer, Hawkins’ “Advice” is actually a bedrock blues, with the composer’s syncopated changes firmly in the tradition as are the clarinetist’s repetative tone patterns.

With his pulses and pops throughout as discreet yet mordant as his sardonic song titles, Eisenstadt constantly validates his percussion strategy. His own “You Have Options, I Have a Lawyer” has an exposition that is menacing with splayed clarinet bites, yet cleverly chromatic due to the drummer’s understated pulse. When pressurized drum backbeats and elevated reed vibrations speed up the tempo and hardens the narrative half-way through, and despite jagged keyboard asides, the tune never loses its assured harmony.

Although Houle on tracks like “Art” has enough command of his instrument to express techniques like whistling spetrofluctuation, his usual method of clear toned, near romantic expositions played with smooth and melodic glissandi, are artfully balanced by Hawkins’ darkened chord sweeps or forceful key outpouring throughout. When the drummer’s pinpointed plops or slaps are added to the others’ motifs, the result is mature sound exploration that searches out textures as much as it swings.

—Ken Waxman

Track Listing: 1, Clue 2. Art 3. Run Riot 4. The Pitts 5. Prayer 6. Advice 7. Largo 8. You Have Options, I Have a Lawyer 9. Le Concombre de Chicoutimi 10. Dusk

Personnel: Francois Houle (clarinet); Alexander Hawkins (piano) and Harris Eistenstadt (drums)