j o e s o r b a r a [ d o t ] c o m  .   p r o j e c t s   .   f r a n ç o i s   h o u l e   &   j o e   s o r b a r a   ::   S o H O

françois houle . clarinet
joe sorbara . drums, percussion

francois houle . clarinet    joe sorbara . drums, percussion

Although this is a duo effort, these two musicians often sound like an entire band of gifted improvisers.
— Bruce Lee Gallanter, Downtown Music Gallery

Master musicians and a dream duo.
— Andy Hamilton, The Wire

François Houle and Joe Sorbara became a duo almost as soon as Sorbara’s plane landed in Vancouver in November of 2017. For the two years following, they explored different approaches to what would later become SoHo in private, while also playing together in a number of other contexts, including the trio Alien Radio with bassist James Meger, and in performance with guitarists Tony Wilson, David Blake, and Jared Burrows.

In 2019, Sorbara’s family returned to their home in Ontario after two years among friends and family on the west coast of Turtle Island. The duo were able to meet next in June 2020, when François drove across Canada from Montréal to Vancouver. He made stops along the way to play in parks and backyards raising funds for four distinct causes he felt to be intimately connected to our realities in the days of Pandemic. Closest to his heart was a fundraising effort to support cancer research via the BC Cancer Foundation in honour of his dear older brother, Yvon. On the 21st, he arrived in Toronto and SoHo made their first public appearance in the form of a short concert for a few cautious friends and neighbours in Joe's stifling Bloordale backyard:

Since, they have performed with Alien Radio at Something Else! through the good folx at Zula Presents in Hamilton along with tenor saxophonist, Ted Crosby; took part in a Temporary Ensembles Night together at Silence in Guelph; and appeared in trios with alto saxophonist Naomi McCarroll-Butler and pianists Tania Gill and Marilyn Lerner at the Tranzac in Toronto.

Their first recording as a duo was released on ezz-thetics by HatHut in November 2022 with liner notes by Art Lang and they are currently preparing to take part in the Sound Symposium in St John's Newfoundland in July 2024 and working toward a series of "+1" concerts with other improvisers from far and wide. There is a lot more to come as the adventure continues.


"It goes without saying that improvised music’s historical multiplex is peppered with duo recordings, a field in which competition has become increasingly stiff. The fact remains that the duo of [clarinetist François] Houle and percussionist Joe Sorbara, familiars for sure, have capitalized on past experience to create a statement both unique and satisfying.

"The disc opens and closes with two of the more sonically diverse offerings, both containing ambient crickets and what the liner notes affectionately call piano guts. They rumble, writhe, and pierce all layers of the register spectrum, especially on “A Veil Drawn Over.” It’s dark, majestic, and penetrating music incapable of being pidgeonholed to a certain ensemble size or characteristic. The gothic opener, “Knocked Ambulations,” does not speak musically to its title’s humor, but another timbral luminary later on, the exquisitely salivary “Montgolfière,” most certainly does. One could be persuaded to believe that a flute player inhabited its final moments, but what is that accompanying hue and cry? If that’s a balloon, no more creative use of it has been documented, especially wild as it traverses the soundstage. The little piece is a wonderful miniature of suffering and laughter of the animalistically human variety whose implications change with each audition.

"On paper, the duo would seem to imply at least a nod and a wink toward jazz pedigree, and if that’s where expectations lie, they don’t disappoint. Dig into the transitory pentatonics and morphing tonal centres of “Travelling by Foot” to hear clarinet and drums in swinging historical repartee, loosely flowing but tightly focused. If that’s not the proverbial cuppa tea, the iridescent “What Next?” might be the ticket, with its luminescent bells, dramatic pauses, asymmetric repetitions and quietly dignified sunny clamor. Contrast all of that with the grooving complexities of “Parallelepiped,” which, like so many of these tasty miniatures, ends with uncanny precision but not before the gongs and percussive tappings infect with light humor.

"As always with a Hat-related production, the recording is absolutely splendid, which it needs to be for music of such detailed execution. The playing is wonderful throughout, but the notes are integral to the package. Annotators never get the credit they deserve, and Art Lang is among the best. Like the album, his notes end where they begin, no mean feat to pull of while avoiding gimmickry. Beyond that, he manages to incorporate musician biography and other pertinent information into a poetic framework! Hush ends up being an album as defiant of category and genre as it is delicious to imbibe if you bring your sense of whimsy to the table. In a world where duos are a dime a dozen, this one’s worth it’s weight in gold!"
— Mark Medwin, Point of Departure

"Featuring Francois Houle on clarinet and Joe Sorbara on drums, table percussion & back porch piano guts. Vancouver-based musician/bandleader, Francois Houle has long been one the most dedicated, crafty and diverse clarinetists in all of Canada and north America. Mr. Houle has had a number of great bands/projects: check out his work with Gordon Grdina, Benoit Delbeq and Tony Wilson. I don’t know of percussionist Joe Sorbara as well, although I have heard him with Ken Aldcroft, Evan Parker and the AIM Orchestra. This disc was recorded in Vancouver & Toronto in November & December of 2020. This starts off with what sounds like Mr. Sorbara playing the strings inside an old piano with Mr. Houle’s clarinet carefully conversing. The overall sound is rather spooky and filled suspense. I love the sound here, as the disc is superbly produced. Mr. Houle’s ever-expressive clarinet is at the center with Mr. Sorbara’s drums weaving or being panned to either side of the sound spectrum. Both musicians appear to be exploring different ways of playing their respective instruments. Houle combines some klez-like licks, slightly further out lower case sounds and many sounds which are free of easy recognized genres. Sorbara also deals with a number of odd minimalist percussives on drums, gongs, cymbals, pieces of wood & metal, always cautious to never do too much. The duo play together extremely well as one force. Houle keeps coming up with assorted thematic material, spicy runs which are tightly orchestrated/matched by Sorbara’s ever-shifting drumming. There is also some occasional playfulness which balances just right with the other further out explorations: twisted clarinet runs with eerie bowed cymbals or similar weird sounds. Although this is a duo effort, these two musicians often sound like an entire band of gifted improvisers."
— Bruce Lee Gallanter, downtownmusicgallery.com

"A Canadian clarinettist and percussionist pairing that acheives a supernal sympathy. Houle's melodic clarinet playing is reminiscent of Jimmy Giuffre's folksy lyricism, but on other tracks he treats his instrument as a resourceful noise generator. Sorbara's brushes complement Houle's breath sounds on 'Stool Pigeon'. 'Coded Whisper' is a beautiful Giuffre-like folk blues; 'Knocked Ambulations' features haunting clarinet squawks and squeaks, interior piano sounds and ambient crickets. Gamelan-like small instruments inflect the clarinet's fluttering lines on 'What Next? (for Ron Gaskin)', while 'Montgolfiére' is replete with growls, vocalisations and, appropriately, balloon effects, whose origins remain obscure. Master musicians and a dream duo."
— Andy Hamilton, The Wire

"With masterful technique and remarkable creative drive, the Canadian duo of clarinetist François Houle and Joe Sorbara explore unorthodox sound worlds through microtones, pad percussives, circular breathing to stretch phrasing, Houle taking apart his instrument to affect tone and pitch, and Sorbara using idiosyncratic percussive instruments including 'back porch piano guts'."

“The music that has emerged from the duo of François Houle and Joe Sorbara comes to us from a remarkable vortex of unique experiences, memories, impulses, and techniques. Their past experiences can only be partially summarized. Houle has released dozens of recordings, collaborated with notable figures such as Marilyn Crispell, Evan Parker, Gerry Hemingway, Dave Douglas, and Myra Melford, examined the relationship of music and poetry with Catriona Strang, performed the music of Elliott Carter and Pierre Boulez, incorporated electronics into his instrumental palette, composed an alluring concerto for the clarinet, on which he has developed a virtuosic, ever-expanding technique. Sorbara has brought his vision of percussive sonorities to many Canadian ensembles that have explored various approaches to jazz, chamber music, and improvised settings, including essaying the music of Evan Parker, Anthony Braxton, Jimmy Giuffre, and Sun Ra, he has taught at a number of universities and colleges, and previously worked with François Houle in a trio format, Alien Radio.”
— Art Lange, notes from HUSH (ezz-thetics by HatHut 1035)

SoHo: François Houle & Joe Sorbara    SoHo: Joe Sorbara & François Houle

h o m e

[ i ] bio

[ ii ] events

[ iii ] projects

never was  

françois houle & joe sorbara

the rest
(jonathan kay & joe sorbara)

norm adams & joe sorbara  

alien radio
(houle/ meger/ sorbara)

the imperative  


imaginary percussion ensemble  

reliable parts  

paul dutton & joe sorbara  


mars people  

my misshapen ear  

other foot first  

remnants trio  

squash recipe  

[ iv ] discography

[ v ] gallery

[ vi ] contact

o w m [ d o t ] o r g