Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Take the Portal...

Keeping with the recent focus on European players, this concert features France’s jazz elder statesman – Michel Portal. He plays most of the saxophones as well bass clarinet. He’s just as comfortable digging into a funk-based jazz (check out Minneapolis, We Insist! for conclusive proof) as he is with straight ahead jazz or free jazz, for that matter.

I first encountered the music of Michel Portal (as I usually do with artists new to me) in a tangential manner. I was browsing through a used record store in Montreal in the late 1980’s and came across a CD on the Label Bleu label called Men's Land. I was immediately curious about it because the lineup included Jack DeJohnette and Dave Liebman – two of my favourite players at the time. I’d only ever heard the name Michel Portal and had absolutely no idea what he sounded like. But I figured with company like DeJohnette and Liebman what did I have to lose… the rest is history, as they say.

Next, I read a rave review for a recording called 9/11 p.m. Town Hall in one of the early editions of the PENGUIN GUIDE TO JAZZ ON CD. There, along with such European jazz luminaries as Daniel Humair, Joachim Kuhn, Martial Solal and J.F. Jenny Clark was Michel Portal. I had to get it. Portal stole the show, as far as I’m concerned.

Over the years I’ve heard Portal many times on record and have never been disappointed. He has the classically trained musician’s command of his chosen instrument and the wealth of imagination of the gifted improviser. I’ve come to adore the sound of the bass clarinet, in large part, because of Michel Portal.

The concert we have here was recorded at the end of this past January in Paris France. It’s taken from a radio broadcast so the sound is pretty clear. The only problem was the incessant babbling of the radio host. I tried as best I could to cut out his self-important vocal outbursts so there may be the odd place where there is an abrupt transition from tune to tune. I apologize beforehand, though I think it’s a far better listening experience with out all the talking.

Portal plays clarinet, bass clarinet, alto & soprano sax and bandoneon. He is joined by Airelle Besson on trumpet, Sylvain Rifflet on tenor sax, Bojan Zulfikaparsic (better know in the jazz world as Bojan Z. for obvious reasons) on piano, Bruno Chevillon on bass and Eric Echampard on drums. Once again, the playlist is spotty but the music is uniformly exciting. Here are the tracks as listed: 1. Dolce 12:44; 2. Pastor 8:49; 3. Unknown 10:28; 4. Lake Street 6:44; 5. Unknown 13:11; 6. Jean-Pierre 7:13; 7. Unknown 7:42; 8. Unknown 12:26

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