Michel Portal is one of those multi-instrumental, multi-genre musicians it seems impossible to pin down. He's adept in the classical music world, he's at home in the world of contemporary music and free improvisation, he's attached to folk music in Europe (hailing from Bayonne in the Basque region of France) and abroad and he was in the first generation of people to introduce free jazz to audiences in his native France and elsewhere in Europe. So what to make of him? Who knows and who cares? He sees himself as an anarchist and why not?
In the 1970s the Michel Portal Unit made a couple of records for French labels. First was one called "No no but maybe" recorded at Chateauvallon in 1972 and released on the Chant du Monde label. Later came the "Chateavallon 76" record on the L'Escargot label. I've got both of those, but the first one has been rereleased on cd and should be fairly easy to obtain. The second one remains out of print. The picture above is taken from the inner sleeve of the first Chateauvallon record.
The line-up on the first Cahteauvallon record is the same as the one we will hear here.
The basic info:
MICHEL PORTAL UNIT
NDR Funkhaus, Hamburg, Germany
Michel Portal: as,ts,cl,bandoneon
Bernard Vitet: tp,vln,frh,p
Beb Guérin: b
Léon Francioli: b,cello
Pierre Favre: dr,perc
1. La Guepe (Vitet) 09:31
2. Nolilanga (Francioli) 15:59
3. Kronenche (Portal) 16:49
4. Splendid Yzlment (Portal) 35:18
Most likely recorded from FM radio to tape and then transferred to a digital medium.
The unusual feature of this line-up is the presence of two bassists, Francioli and Guerin. I believe they can be heard as they are positioned in the above picture with Francioli in the left channel and Guerin in the right. Their presence gives the performance a strong rhythmic propelling force and an added depth. Both Favre and Vitet add to the percussive punch of the ensemble.
Another feature of the Unit is that there's no clear sense of a leader or lead instrument. Each throws their lot into the ring and all sorts of interplay pop up in the course of these extended pieces. There's no marked sense of tunes being played either as a recognisable melody might turn up anywhere from any of the Unit members at any point in time. Yet it never sounds like an unstructured blow-out typical of free jazz ensenbles at the time. A feeling of space is kept throughout for quiter interactions between two or more.
Portal heads off the set with what sounds like an emulated didgeridoo or an accidental meeting of aboriginals during a walkabout and rounds off with an Argentinian tango on the bandoneon. In between, lots of things are happening on a multitude of instruments and not according to any thought out scheme either. All in all, highly unpredictable, highy enjoyable and highly entertaining!
This was upped at Dime by .......................so a tip of the hat for this and other Portal goodies. There shall be more Portal in the time to come!