You Have Options

Houle Hawkins Eisenstadt

You Have Options

(Songlines) (2018)

PERSONNEL

Francois Houle, Alexander Hawkins

"...boundary-pushing explorations."

-Dan Bilawsky
All About Jazz

NOTES AND INFO

This collective trio was born when the late (and greatly missed) Ken Pickering, co-founder and artistic director of Vancouver’s jazz festival, recommended Alexander Hawkins for the piano chair in a new Houle project for the 2014 festival. Houle already had Brooklyn-based fellow Canadian Harris Eisenstadt in mind – Harris had recently toured and recorded in his 5+1 project (Genera, Songlines 2012). And Eisenstadt and Hawkins had played together for years in the collective Convergence Quartet. The Oxford-based Hawkins however was unknown to François, but the latter agreed on the spot, such was his trust in Ken’s judgement.

After two exciting, rather free-form performances at the festival the project lay dormant until the opportunity to record in Vancouver just after the 2016 festival. Everyone brought some different compositions of their own to the session, and it was decided to add tunes by Steve Lacy and Andrew Hill and an improvisational version of a Charles Ives clarinet/violin/piano piece. The feeling in the studio was relaxed; the music that resulted has a spacious, poised quality. It was something François had been thinking about: “There’s a shared language and sensibility among us…guiding lines that we gravitate towards. Having said that, I had a feeling there was enormous potential for more poetic and refined elements in our musicmaking. Within an energetic space we knew we could generate lots of efficient ideas together, but it’s the potential for a quieter, more introspective approach that intrigued me…Most of the material I brought to the session was fairly melody-centric. During the session I could feel a quiet energy settling…which led us to play with a slightly different perspective.” (Harris feels the music has a sense of “tranquility, even during the densest moments”; Alexander partly attributes it to having just come off the back of a tour of his trio with Harris on Vancouver Island: “Being out in Canadian nature and playing music with friends must be two of the best places to be!”)

A good example of the level of interplay here is Eisenstadt’s “You Have Options, I Have a Lawyer,” as described by Alex: “Around the 3:00 mark I start playing a syncopated discord figure in the right hand, and check out how Harris’ snare drum jumps right on it…Harris then introduces a figure on the toms at 3:40 which seems then to prod the piano right hand in turn to jump into a melodic idea. Meanwhile, François is just working away on this beautiful two-clarinet figure, sailing above all this.”

And in Houle’s “Run Riot,” the most intense and free piece on the record, François points to “a real ecstatic musical moment where everything comes into focus rhythmically, harmonically, and energetically (1:16 to 1:30). It’s moments like this (to my ears) that make the whole endeavor of improvisation worthwhile.” Alex responds: “An interesting flip side to the joy of music making together is the way people who get on and are having fun can still capture a sort of melancholy. Harris’s ‘The Pitts’ is a nice example…it’s an almost impossibly sad tune in some ways! But what I love about the performance is the total lack of sentimentality – like Monk. We play it a little bit like Michelangeli plays Chopin.”

You Have Options represents another step in Songlines’ 26-year relationship with François Houle, starting with our very first release in 1992 – his septet François Houle Et Cetera – right up to last year’s Ghost Lights collective, and including three duo records with French pianist Benoît Delbecq and one with Norwegian pianist Håvard Wiik – projects which also owe their existence in various ways to Ken Pickering. There’s been a shorter but equally important relationship with Harris Eisenstadt, from Canada Day II in 2011 to Recent Developments in 2017. Houle Hawkins Eisenstadt are eager to take things further; as François says: “Where there’s a will, there’s a way, regardless of geography. I’d like to think that there is lots of room and willingness on this planet to listen to this kind of musicmaking.”