I love clarinet. I think it’s primarily the tone — a bit thin compared to brass, rounder than double-reeds; ecstatic as opposed to joyous; instead of longing, despair and lonesomeness — which strikes me, more than most instruments, as being shaped precisely as it sounds.
The tune that brought clarinet to the front of my mind this week is "Pamela’s Holiday", a bright, shimmering number. Summer music.
"Pamela’s Holiday," Wendell Harrison & Mama’s Licking Stick Clarinet Ensemble, Rush & Hustle, 1994.
Some of you will recognize the brand of 6/8 at work here: I tend to think of it as the "My Favorite Things" feel established by John Coltrane’s quartet.1
Another favorite clarinet performance of mine is from the François Houle 5’s In the Vernacular CD, a collection of compositons by John Carter.
"Morning Bell (prelude)," François Houle 5, In the Vernacular, 1998.
I’m not sure what to say about this piece except that it’s one of two records I’ve ever bought because I heard it playing in a record store. I had never heard anything like it before. Whatever avant-garde energies are at work, it is the attention to tone that compels the musicians.2
Which group, I might add, made a signature of that time signature. Paul Desmond’s innovative “Take Five,” performed by the Dave Brubeck Quartet, preceded the Coltrane Quartet number by two years but it was the latter’s understanding of this relatively long swing that brought some muscle to bear. The Harrison track seems to draw from both sides of the feel, buoyant and soaring, unafraid to assert itself when needed.↩
For what it’s worth, the other Houle work I know is far farther out than this set. F.H.’s devotion to Carter’s compositions is fierce, loving.↩