Alien Radio is the Canadian creative music power trio of clarinetist François Houle, bassist James Meger, and percussionist Joe Sorbara. These stalwart sonic adventurers come together as often as the universe allows to breathe life into a diverse book of compositions penned by free jazz and experimental music luminaries as well as by each of the trio’s members.
Having formed in Vancouver during a moment of confluence that saw Sorbara on secondment to Canada’s left coast while Houle had yet to make the move from his long-time home to Europe, the three now travel greater distances to convene. The musical kinship founded in James’ rehearsal shed in East Van, however, remains as the cornerstone of their music.
Clichés vol I & II are sibling albums released, respectively, on Sorbara’s Oval Window Records and Houle’s Afterday Audio. The music on both volumes was recorded on the afternoon of April 14, 2019 at Capilano University in North Vancouver by the multi-faceted West Coast musician, Jared Burrows.
Each volume begins with a piece by Houle and takes its title from that initial track. Following the wild, hard-swinging, and rhythmically twisted Trio Music, this first volume continues with a haunting melody by Ornette Coleman. Coincidentally, Coleman’s Sound Museum appears on each of a pair of sibling albums released in the late nineties—Hidden Man and Three Women—notable for pairing the singular voices of Ornette and pianist Geri Allen.
Sorbara’s Alien Radio was written in tribute to Houle after a long conversation the two shared in late 2017 during Joe’s early days in Vancouver. The piece is an attempt to deal with the kinds of rhythmic complexity they discussed as well as with Houle’s newfound interest in hip hop culture.
The trio continues with an exploration of Sticks and Stones by the great clarinetist John Carter, taking a detour through Sorbara’s own Sticks & Stones in the process. Carter’s composition can be heard on Houle’s 1998 release, In the Vernacular - The Music of John Carter (featuring Dave Douglas, Mark Dresser, Peggy Lee, and Dylan van der Schyff). Sorbara’s first appeared on Remnants, an early trio outing with Ken Aldcroft and Evan Shaw.
Both volumes conclude with a different take of Steve Lacy’s Clichés, each playful and overflowing with joy.
“Clichés,”Houle explains, “was one of my early favorite compositions by Steve Lacy. I played it for him when I was taking soprano sax lessons with him in 1994 in Paris. After I was done, he sat there seemingly not impressed. He then suggested that I try the piece on my clarinet, which I did. He then had a huge grin on his face, and simply told me that playing more than one horn was like polygamy. It was his unique way of telling me that my true voice, my calling, was to be a clarinet player. I sold my saxophone as soon as I got back home in Vancouver and never looked back. Best advice ever!”
Check out Clichés vol. II: Trio Axioms here:
released October 10, 2020
François Houle . clarinet, electronics
James Meger . bass
Joe Sorbara . drums, percussion
recorded by Jared Burrows at Capilano University, 14 iv 2019
mixed and mastered by François Houle, FMH Productions
artwork and design by Joe Sorbara
notes by Joe Sorbara and François Houle
1 by François Houle (Tatterdemalion Music, SOCAN)
2 by Ornette Coleman (Harmelodic Music, ASCAP)
3 by Joe Sorbara (Oval Window Music, SOCAN)
4 by John Carter (Testament Music, BMI) and Joe Sorbara (Oval Window Music, SOCAN)
5 by Steve Lacy (SACEM)