(EmArcy 2753766. CD review/ London Jazz Fesival Preview by Chris Parker)
As an appetiser for Michel Portal‘s upcoming LJF appearance (QEH, Monday 14 November), this album, released in November 2010, is hard to beat: wide-ranging in scope but intense and hard-driving, often subtle and complex yet always surprisingly approachable.
The French multi-reedsman, along with Henri Texier and Martial Solal, has been at the heart of jazz in his country for nearly half a century, but on this recording of six Portal originals, plus one by compatriot Eddy Louiss and another by guest drummer Jack DeJohnette (although Nasheet Waits will replace him at the QEH), he has assembled an intriguing line-up of international musicians of the highest calibre.
Trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire, Herbie Hancock guitarist Lionel Loueke, bassist Scott Colley and keyboardist/arranger Bojan Z respond magnificently to the various challenges posed by the album’s restlessly probing pieces, which range from the bright, freewheeling opener ‘Dolce’, through the more darkly sinuous Louiss composition ‘Citrus Juice’ to the burning energy of the title-track, but it is the cogency, imaginative range and sheer power of Portal’s playing (mostly on bass clarinet, but also occasionally on saxophone) that attract and hold the attention throughout this rich, multi-textured but consistently absorbing and vigorous set.
Portal has claimed that the album represents a starting-point for future live performances by this stellar band, which makes his QEH gig (at which he will play opposite the UK duo of saxophonist Jason Yarde and pianist Andrew McCormack) a toothsome prospect indeed.