between the lines btl 012/EFA 10182-2

Warning: Whatever you do before playing this fine CD, don't read the liner notes. In them, Vancouver, B.C.-based clarinetist François Houle not only writes about the similarities between cryptology and musicology and musical notation as code, but also reprints the conventional encryption layout for five letter-groups — all 430 of them.

The overall effect is frightening and makes the music inside seem forbidding, academic and just plain difficult. In truth, it's anything but. What it is is a variation by five Canadians of possibilities implicit in the melding of so-called New Music with serious improvisations.

No offense to Houle's scholarship, but despite the highbrow trapping of his compositions, the reason the CD is satisfying relates as much to the skills of the individual musicians as to the tunes themselves. Each soloist has played with a wide variety of other European and North American explorers, as part of Lotus Land's distinctive improv scene. Plus, they're so familiar with each other's facility, that they create vibrant, thought-provoking sounds, no matter how the clarinetist labels them.

Responsible for a portion of the excitement is Turner, thoroughly proficient on both of his doubles. Trumpet blending with cello cushions Wilson's light guitar fingering on the gentle Prayer, for instance, while Hive-mind is launched through a piano ostinato, decorated by chesty cello tones and what seems to be anything percussionist Van Der Schyff can scratch, bang or hit. Meanwhile Lee is working in both registers, transforming her instrument first into a violin and then a bass.

The joyous Asymptote, on the other hand, with its sweet little melody, bounds along with a rather straightforward piano-cello-and-drums rhythm track. On it, Houle, whose clarinet style usually pays homage to minimalist colorists like Jimmy Giuffre, sound as if he could easily burst into Sing, Sing, Sing if given half the chance. Sections of Keystream Mystery with Van Der Schyff quirky, powerful drumming and hearty electric guitar licks from Wilson gives you an idea of what would happen if an improvising clarinetist made a session with a rock band.

Some of the other tunes may be more doleful and abstruse, but they're shouldn't put anyone off. An atmospheric outing like Palinodia I, heavy on chalumeau resonance gives you an idea of what would have happened had the Spontaneous Music Ensemble played freebop. While false fingering from the clarinetist at the beginning of The Donkey's Tale, resolves itself into what could easily be the sort of children's song that its title suggests.

There's really nothing cryptic or crypt-like about CRYPTOLOGY. Just good music made without worrying about meeting the accepted norm.

— Ken Waxman

Track Listing: 1. Palinodia I 2. Le corps abstrait s'abandonne à la lumière 3. Prayer 4. Hive-mind 5. Asymptote 6. Palinodia II 7. The Donkey's Tale 8. Keystream Mystery

Personnel: Brad Turner (trumpet, piano); François Houle (clarinet, bass clarinet); Tony Wilson (guitar); Sheila McDonald* (violin); Peggy Lee (cello); Dylan Van Der Schyff (percussion)