Michel Portal : clarinet, saxophone
Bojan Z : piano, keys
Nils Wogram : trombone
Bruno Chevillon : double bass
Lander Gyselinck : drums
His audience is ever-present and critics have been using superlatives to qualify his work for years ; younger musicians refer to him as a leader in jazz that is both accessible and demanding, and his peers readily admit to being impressed by his bulimic taste for adventure... Yet Michel Portal is no leading light in the way others are : risk comes as second nature to him, and he stubbornly refuses the "senator of jazz" status he could have claimed ages ago.
As an accomplished practitioner of improvisation in jazz he continues to multiply adventurous encounters onstage ; he still plays classical music as if it were a challenge to his brio as an instrumentalist ; and in parallel he continues to approach recording as a highly perilous joy.
Any new Michel Portal record is, in itself, a special occasion.
Some more than others...
Such as "MP85".
First, because it loudly breaks (into pieces) a much too long phonographic silence - "Baïlador", the clarinettist's latest record as a leader, already dating back to 2011...
Then, because it celebrates the great reunion of the musician with Label Bleu - 23 years after "Dockings" beautifully brought to an end a rich collaboration that gave birth to some key-records of his career all through the 90's!
Last (and foremost!), because aged 85, being both an unchallenged giant of the European jazz stage and a spirit forever free, Michel Portal is very concerned never to "settle down" once and for all-in-one style or one genre. With this joyous and iconoclast record, he delivers precisely the opposite of the testamentary piece some might expect from him at this point in his career!
Surfing on the energy of a new band, merrily mixing together different generations and musical traditions, Michel Portal is far from carefully writing a few "chosen pieces" of a life dedicated body and soul to music for posterity. Instead of that, he continues his existential and artistic quest, that has moved him and made him "play" for more than 60 years. Deliciously impossible to qualify - lyrical, virtuoso, spontaneous and sophisticated - this music of the here and now is absolutely free, definitely breaks away from any notion of avant-garde and classicism, and once again goes off on a wildly different tangent! With an irresistible juvenile disrespect!
A brand-new quintet
It was in 2018, as part of a "carte blanche" given by the Europa jazz festival in Le Mans, that Michel Portal appeared for the first time in public leading this young, never seen before ensemble. Articulated for almost 25 years around the key axis, with Bruno Chevillon playing the standing bass and Bojan Zulfikarpasic playing keyboards and arranging, this quintet innovated with the introduction of German trombonist Nils Wogram and Belgian drummer Lander Gyselinck, both newcomers in the universe of the clarinettist. The group played on the tension between a classical instrumentation unambiguously jazzy and the audacity of arrangements putting the emphasis on the original blend of strong personalities coming from very different styles. This very first performance at sky-high level drew the attention because its inspiration was fresh, its rhythm was an irresistible call to move and the energy flow was of a rare quality for a premiere! A few gigs in the months that followed, including a memorable concert in Tourcoing, and Michel Portal felt the band gaining cohesion and musical identity with every new opportunity. He grasped that he had his dream team, ready for a new adventure and (at last!) a new record.
A versatile repertoire
Fuelled by the potential of his new ensemble, Michel Portal immediately started composing themes that for the most part are found on "MP85".
As a major pianist on the contemporary European stage, key-partner of our clarinettist for almost 25 years, but also as producer and music director of the session, Bojan Zulfikarpasic insists on the freshness and the quality of this deliciously versatile repertoire: "In this record, Michel tells many stories about himself directly, in many different ways, regarding style as much as moods and atmospheres that unfold. "Jazzoulie", for instance, is a strong hint to Miles Davis; Africa, that has been haunting him for years, can be found in "African Wind" while the shadow of Duke Ellington hovers over "Desertown"; some tunes happily drift towards Harry Belafonte (“Mister Pharmacy”) while others, on the opposite, such as "Armenia", conjure the melancholy of Eastern Europe folklore... In yet another style, a piece like "Mino-Miro" is a clear tribute to two musicians that have meant a lot in his career... In a nutshell, if you add to this the pieces that the other musicians have brought along, you end up with a true kaleidoscope of pictures and musical landscapes with which we had to work to find a style that united everything!"
A true sound signature
Trying to constantly preserve the balance between the poetry and spontaneity of these intimate melodies, offering such a moving purity in the gesture, and the lushness of a sophisticated production borrowing sounds and rhythms from all existing contemporary musical forms, Michel Portal and Bojan Z have managed to give a miraculous consistency throughout the work, thanks to their close cooperation and perfect artistic symbiosis. Brilliantly putting forward the timbre quality of a virtuoso and inspired orchestra, fired up by the very contemporary grooves of young Belgian drummer Lander Gyselinck, the arrangements found by the two musicians fall into the right tone all along, happily intertwining colours, textures and traditions of the rhythms, thus giving Michel Portal's unique lyricism the oasis in which to bloom. Supported and fuelled by the plasticity and the deep, soft richness of Nils Wogram's trombone, that gives him the perfect match to his winding and poetic style, our clarinettist gifts "MP85" with some improvisations which go from moving to playful, absolutely free.
Tear walls down!
Recorded between June 25 and 30 in the year 2020, after a particularly hard time of lockdown, "MP85" sounds to Michel Portal's ears as "the record of the return to life and of all openings"... He explains: "I wanted a music that would be happy, alive, bursting... Something that could be opened to the here and now and that would reconnect with the pleasure of sharing and togetherness, after all these weeks of imprisonment and solitude. It wasn't that easy. I personally had some fears to fight away. I had to trust anew. But the way every member of the band got involved in the project, holding nothing back, the joy that gradually filled us, just because we were able to play music together again, contaminated the whole session and gave it its specific colour, its light and daring spirit. It's a music that doesn't care about styles, that chooses life, that tears wall down!"
What else do we need today?
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