A couple recent happenings have had me wondering why the marvelous compositions of the late clarinetist John Carter are so rarely performed by forward-looking jazz musicians. A few months ago Chicagoans got a treat when Carter’s old partner, cornetist Bobby Bradford, invoked his ebullient and complex spirit in a rare appearance at the Empty Bottle, and now Vancouver-based clarinetist Francois Houle has released an album of mostly Carter’s music, In the Vernacular (Songlines), which not only shows off Carter’s inventive melodies and wordless narratives but also demonstrates how they can bring out a musician’s own strengths. Joined by trumpeter Dave Douglas, bassist Mark Dresser, cellist Peggy Lee, and drummer Dylan van der Schyff, Houle navigates Carter’s labyrinthine compositions with vigor and agility, but it’s in the open sections that he really takes flight. On “Sticks and Stones,” for example, both Houle and Douglas wriggle within the tight writing to take daring solos that mix melodic filigree with abstract swoops and smears. Much like Carter, Houle is blessed with remarkable range and versatility: Nancali (Songlines), his duet recording with French pianist Benoit Delbecq from last year, suggests the modern chamber music of Jimmy Giuffre’s great trio with Paul Bley. Houle has several shows planned for this Chicago visit: Monday at 7 PM he’ll open for the Myra Melford Quintet (see separate Critic’s Choice) with a solo set at the Chicago Cultural Center’s Preston Bradley Hall, 78 E. Washington; 312-744-6630. Wednesday at 9 PM he’ll perform solo and with Ken Vandermark at the Empty Bottle, 1035 N. Western; 773-276-3600. And next Sunday, December 13, at 3 PM, he’ll play original compositions as well as the music of Gene Coleman, Guillermo Gregorio, Anthony Braxton, and Giacinto Scelsi as a guest of Ensemble Noamnesia at HotHouse, 31 E. Balbo; 312-362-9707. PETER MARGASAK
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo by K. Finlayson.