Because She Hoped
Parisian pianist Benoît Delbecq and Canadian clarinetist François Houle don’t collaborate very often. Their three Songlines recordings span 14 years, with their previous summit meeting, Dice Thrown, released in 2002. Yet they remain resolutely exploratory on this recent effort. Both musicians have advanced in terms of their arsenals of sounds and their abilities to weave those sounds into a compelling whole.
Delbecq’s artillery is readily perceived, and the studio session affords more opportunities for elaborate, precisely measured preparations than live performance does. In Ellington’s “The Mystery Song,” Delbecq’s accompaniment behind the dirge-like lead from Houle plinks like a gamelan. Later, on Steve Lacy’s “Clichés,” Delbecq opens fire with some strumming under the hood and a marimba prep in the treble, followed by a barrage of woodblocks below. Even on the live recording of “Nancali,” the title tune from their first CD in 1997, we find long stretches where Delbecq doesn’t sound like he’s at a piano at all. We meander out of a Caribbean marimba wail into a more Eastern sitar-like sound, which serves as a perfect launching pad for Houle’s licorice-stick ululations.
Less obvious are Houle’s wonders on clarinet. Besides the hipster’s expected toolkit—the harmonics, wide intervals and proto-Dolphy weirdness of “Pour Pee Wee” (included here in live and studio versions)—Houle is able to creep up to pennywhistle territory in “Binoculars.” More impressive, Houle’s slap-tonguing is so proficient that he is actually producing some of the sounds presumed to be coming from Delbecq’s preps: the tuned rubber pipes sound in “Le Bois Debout” and “Because She Hoped,” plus a share of the marvelous percussion that begins “Ando.” And, remarkably, none of this grows competitive, showy or old.