Max Christie - The Whole Note - October 2015

Sassicaia

François Houle; Jane Hayes
Redshift Records TK438 (redshiftmusic. org)

Zarabandeo
François Houle; Jane Hayes

Afterday AA1501 (francoishoule.ca)

The versatile Vancouver-based duo Sea and Sky consists of clarinetist François Houle and pianist Jane Hayes. They have released a pair of CDs: Sassicaia features current Canadian compositions, many of them commissioned by the duo; the other, Zarabandeo, is a collection of pieces in, for want of a better word, Latin style. Both collec- tions are compelling, and both demonstrate the considerable interpretive strengths of this seasoned ensemble. Releasing them together makes sense. It lends a weight to the enter- prise that might be missing if one or the other had come out alone. They are set against one another by contrast, not similarity.

The title track on the Canadian collection is by Bruce Mather, who has named a number of works for impressive wines. His pointillist and microtonal piece is both gravel terroir and heady bouquet. It is a contempla- tive, mysterious centerpiece to the disc. Owen Underhill’s Duotone features pointillism and microtones as well, and also the captivating clarinet double tones that Houle demon- strates with mastery.

Less effective to me is the headbanger by Keith Hamel entitled Cyclone. Intended to depict the energy of the weather event, its heavy base and static quality forced my ear into shelter. As unfortunate an inclusion as that piece is, the meditation that begins immediately following in Paul Dolden’s Eternal Return of a Ritual Form serves as balm that quickly turns to hallucino- genic drug. Dolden spins a basic repetitive formula into nervous dervishness. Cleverly constructed as a kind of maniacal passa- caglia, the 17-minute piece keeps the listener wondering “what next?” When a free improv section gives way to a drum solo, before one can think “OH NO!” it heads on into mad variation X. A gradual disintegration should lead to a calm coda, but instead, every-

thing is all insect buzz and numb desolation. Quite a trip.

The opening track
of the other disc
provides the title. Not
your parents’ sara-
bande, Zarabandeo is
by Mexican composer
Arturo Marquez.
Following this tuneful
and romantic rondo form are two effective short works by Cuban clarinetist/composer Paquito D’Rivera. Featured also are works
by Argentinians Carlos Guastavino and the tango master Astor Piazzolla. In Ravel’s Pièce en forme de Habanera Houle shows a nice touch, though here he doesn’t meet the style standard set by the remarkable Jane Hayes, whose work on this second album is full of character and verve. Houle includes two takes of Piazzolla’s haunting nocturne Oblivion (he emulates many jazzers here and gives us two interesting improvised intros to the piece). I don’t agree that Two Majorcan Pieces quali- fies for inclusion. For me the rest of the collection is utterly charming and substan- tial enough without Joseph Horovitz’ ersatz Spanishism. Houle lets his sound go in playing this material, allowing his jazz chops to take some focus away from his tone. No one 

 

else will likely quibble with that and I can just suffer my envy of his slap tongue in silence.

Sea and Sky 
Sassicaia (Redshift)

Alexander Varty - The Giorgia Straight - April 8, 2015

The first of two nearly simultaneously released discs from the Sea and Sky duo of clarinetist François Houle and pianist Jane Hayes, Sassicaia is named for a rare and costly wine. And aptly so: the grapes used in this super-Tuscan blend are grown on miserly soil but result in a rich and intoxicating product. Similarly, many of the sounds here are austere or contemplative, but the excellence of the musicianship and Jeff Yellen’s impeccable engineering make for heady listening.

Where the duo’s second release, Zarabandeo, has a distinctly Hispanic flavour and includes works by historical figures Maurice Ravel, Darius Milhaud, and Astor Piazzolla, Sassicaiaconcentrates on Canadian composers, all but one of whom are still around to enjoy Hayes and Houle’s interpretive prowess. In turn, they’ve given the two plenty to work with; if you think the combination of clarinet and piano has limited potential, you’ve not taken into account Sea and Sky’s willingness to experiment, or the genre-jumping options inherent in contemporary music.

Gordon Fitzell’s “Bliss Point”, for example, finds Hayes delving into the electric guitarist’s trick bag for some handheld eBows, electronic devices that coax sustained, overtone-heavy sonorities from the piano’s metal strings. Atop these, Houle creates his own long, shimmering tones that pulse against the piano in suitably dreamy fashion. Even more entrancing is Paul Dolden’s epic “Eternal Return of a Ritual Form”, which uses prerecorded passages to simulate orchestral and prog-rock textures; these eventually come together in a long, ecstatic finale over which Hayes flings flurries of splintery notes.

Sonically vivid and intellectually lively, Sassicaia is an auspicious debut.


SASSICAIA  -  Sea and Sky

Jason Hall - Vancouver Observer - March 2015

I don’t know if it was Chinese New Year celebrations at the Symphony or the St. Louis Blues playing the Canucks that ate up the audience for the François’ CD release concert at Pyatt Hall (March 2), but the handful of people who turned out were treated to the very outer limits of performance techniques so far as clarinet and piano repertoire go. Pianist, Janes Hayes and clarinet, François Houle performing a mix of works from their two recently released CDs: Sassicaia and Zarabandeo. Where Zarabandeo explored traditional repertoire, albeit with an Hispanic flare, Sassicaia ventured out much further (although it’s Houle’s lightening quick musical reflexes and Jane’s masterful chamber music chops that made both the live performance and the CD outstanding).