A professor once told me, that writing was like pinning butterflies. The concept is only an image of what once was – a flitting, ever-changing, ever-growing, to decay – becomes frozen. Words cannot fully create the sounds of music, as words always appear in voice or in images; like pinning cannot capture flight. This becomes more apparent as a writer attempts to describe particularly astral music. And yet, Marc Ducret, one of the three improvisers contributing to the show at Ironworks three nights ago, speaks of a similar frustration in interviews. He speaks of frustration of limitation becoming an edge in his works with Big Satan. He speaks of trying to create rhythm without time. He speaks, as a guitarist, of the being isolated from certain music, of not being able to recreate and absorb Mozart himself. And so, music can also pin butterflies, only these butterflies are ideas of sounds, instead of the memory of them played. Perhaps this is what separates Ducret from his two fellows, Delbecq and Houle. They seem more comfortable, more at ease as they play; whereas Ducret appears still be grasping, still to be reaching for something that cannot be fully expressed.
Music, like writing, is best when it absorbs; when it silences. This is the atmosphere that was created by Houle, Delbecq and Ducret at their Ironworks show. The ins and outs of their playing, each letting each other have their moments absorbed the audience, which broke into chatter the moment it was released. That chatter was the result of the incredible originality of their playing. Each plays their instrument as so to expand its possibilities. Ducret, a self-taught guitarist, who bends into his guitar as though he wishes he could disappear into it plays strings all parts of the guitar, his fingers reaching down to the bridge, and his hands beating out rhythms on the body. Houle and Delbecq are disorientating in their creation of sound. It did not seem possible that the percussionist plucks that were emitted that night were coming from a piano and clarinet. Both have been inspired by African instrumentation. The balafon has particularly inspired Houle, and he imitates the sound through his slap-tongue technique, where he draws the reed out and then, releases it. The windy, reverb clucking is incredible. Delbecq prepares his piano with pieces of wood, erasers, and clothespins so he can play an acoustic, percussionist sound on one end. The sound is playful and minimalist, and when combined with Houle and Ducret it is bewitching. Houle, more than once, played two clarinets simultaneously. He also demonstrated his mastery of circular breathing, multiphonics, polyrhythms, and overtone playing. While Houle has dedicated himself to developing new techniques, which he teaches, Delbecq searches for more of a freedom in his work. In regards to his latest he speaks of ‘play’, of improvisation and moving beyond structure. Ducret speaks of an obsession with rhythm and its creation through guitar; in that sense he is similar to Delbecq whose compositions intensely focus on circular rhythms.
Their transcendence of genre is apparent even in their musical narratives, going from the classic theme of love with the song “Because She Hoped,” to the song ‘Le Concombre,” the story of Canadian hockey goaltender, Georges Vézina. His nature: modest, humble, and dedicated to his passion is similar to their onstage presence – modest, humble, and dedicated to their art. Their sound, despite the result of mastering their instruments, and then using their mastery to create new techniques seemed natural; they were at ease, and very much in their element. Houle and Delbecq have been playing together, on and off since 1966, but they do not regularly play as a trio, nor have they all recorded together. The TD Vancouver International Jazz Festival, as part of the Spotlight on French Jazz, brought the three together for one night, at the gorgeously warm Ironworks. With its simple and clean architectural style and intimate atmosphere, it housed the unexpected perfectly. Together, these improvisers are a rarity in music today. Transformative, imaginative, and beautiful – their music transfixes, and these award-winning musicians, I hope will be back soon.