Few improvisers present as challenging a proponent for both new jazz and contemporary classical music as the Canadian clarinetist Francois Houle.
Aerials, Houle's most recent solo album, is a thoughtful and intelligent set of clearly outlined themes. He explores the full use of the clarinet's natural range — often contrasting upper and lower registers in a kind of call-and-response manner — and adds overtones and circular breathing in order to extend his tonal palette. His most obvious influence is the soprano saxophone solo work of Evan Parker (“Circulaire” and “Tuilerie” could almost have come from Parker himself.) But Houle has his own things to say. He eschews speed in favor of timbre control, patiently casting out melodies that are developed succinctly over the course of this set of mostly short pieces.
Francois Houle is a subtle — and quiet — player, so Aerials requires more than casual attention. But listen to “Pour Jimmy” (which sounds as if it might be a tribute to Ellington clarinetist Jimmy Hamilton) and you'll surely be lured in by this beautiful album.