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Benoît Delbecq/François Houle: Because She Hoped

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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.

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