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Michel Portal: Arriverderci Le Chouartse

Andrey Henkin By

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Up until 1965 or so, the European jazz sound took most its cues from the States, its sizeable share of proficient and prolific jazz musicians lacking a unique identity. The infancy of "European Jazz" was perhaps inspired by the successes of natives like saxophonist John Tchicai and trombonist Albert Mangelsdorff, along with Americans like Eric Dolphy playing throughout Europe with local musicians (including no less than drummer Han Bennink and pianist Misha Mengelberg). Groups of native-minded musicians cropped up throughout Europe - Holland, Germany, Italy, and, in France, reed player Michel Portal. His seminal 1965 Free Jazz recording is, along with Gunter Hampel's Heartplants (recorded in Germany for SABA in the same year), one of the first truly European jazz recordings, reflecting the musical traditions and sensibilities of the region.

In the early '70s, Portal began a longtime association with two Swiss musicians, drummer Pierre Favre and bassist Léon Francioli. They recorded Portal's No, no but it may be and played throughout the decade as the Michel Portal Unit. Arriverderci Le Chouartse, a live recording from Switzerland in 1980, is a wise release from the Swiss label HatOLOGY, both as an opportunity to showcase two "local" musicians and to demonstrate the benefits of free jazz musicians playing together for years. Francioli and Favre especially are nicely in sync - their association including a pair of duet records in the mid '70s and Favre's participation on Francioli's immensely rare debut as a leader, Nolilanga (Evasion, 1970).

The album is comprised of two pieces, "Arriverderci" and the two-part "Le Chouartse." This is lengthy music, each title running over 30 minutes and covering a startling amount of musical territory. "Arriverderci" has full ensemble moments liberally sprinkled with duo and solo segments. Allusions draw as far back as Duke Ellington and as far out as the three can play. Of particular note is Francioli, an unknown quantity to most. He has an aggressive approach without sacrificing empathy, whether he is violently scraping and sawing as a complement to Portal's snarls or furiously plucking along with Favre's rhythms. Favre's playing is startling in its reserve. There are many moments where the listener can forget there is a drummer, because his contributions fit so seamlessly (unlike some other free jazz bashers). "Le Chouartse" is a little more straightforward - a strange comment to make with free jazz - meaning only that it is lacking somewhat in the various textures of the first number. Whether this is better or worse depends on what style of improvisation you prefer. This album has both aplenty.


Track Listing: Arrivederci; La Chouartse I; La Chouartse II.

Personnel: Michel Portal: clarinets, saxophones; L

Title: Arriverderci Le Chouartse | Year Released: 2003 | Record Label: Hat Hut Records

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