It’s hard to think of a better source of inspiration for the longstanding Montréal trio Les Poules than that of the phoenix. The trio — saxophonist Joane Hétu, electronicist Diane Labrosse and percussionist Danielle Palardy Roger — has been playing together for more than a decade, which in the experimental music world mirrors the 500-year lifespan of the mythical bird. And birds are not only an interest for the group (their name translates as “the hens”), but can at times make for a nice metaphor for their sound: small and delicate yet, like a tree full of sparrows, able to kick up a good bit of cacophony.
Phenix is comprised of five parts and a total of 24 tracks, all of which are under three minutes. But they seem to go by without break or pause, a series of innovative miniatures which never sound simply like a trio playing. As a sort of rhythm section, Labrosse and Roger are endlessly creative: the sampler is used to create low, resonating tones, static and white noise, and the percussion more often plays atop than pushes from behind. Which could leave Hetu’s sax and voice out front if she, too, weren’t so committed to the group process. Long exhalations, upper-register squeals and syllables sung slowly or whispered circle like little eddies throughout the mix.
There’s something to be said in the improv world for the excitement of first-time meetings, but there’s also much to be said for years of working together in a small, tightly knit community. As central figures in the Ambiances Magnetiques collective, Les Poules have the knowledge of shared experience that allows them to flesh out ideas with their own soundworlds.