Frank Portolese | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

Frank Portolese 

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FRANK PORTOLESE

A few months ago I heard Chicago guitarist Frank Portolese accompanying a singer at a north-side club, and within half a chorus I was paying more attention to him than to the artist in the spotlight. Not that his comp work lacks the appropriate humility: Portolese knows how to stay in the background when the situation calls for it, even though in his own band he dashes through daredevil acrobatics at burning tempos. But the cleanly conceived lines and inventive chord variations of his supporting statements reward careful listening the same way a solo does. A defining feature of Portolese's style is the anachronistic tone he gets from his obscure 1965 Barker guitar, a tone that has its roots in the period just before the golden age of jazz guitar, which began in the late 1950s. His timbre isn't as dark as that favored by, say, Kenny Burrell or Jim Hall, and it's led Portolese to seek relatively open, even buoyant chord voicings. He tends to remind knowledgeable listeners not of any of his contemporaries but of Tal Farlow and Jimmy Raney, both of whom forged their styles in the late 40s from the bebop innovations of Charlie Parker and the hard, country-tinged swing of Les Paul. And since Paul himself brought to full flower the style created by Charlie Christian--who in the early 40s infused bop with his own southwestern roots and colorful chromaticism--Portolese's stylistic lineage can be said to extend back to the first appearances of the electric guitar. He's chosen not to dwell in the past, though: his new second album, Last Call (Southport), features tunes by Wayne Shorter and Joe Henderson as well as several of his own compositions, which set modernist harmonies and knotty solo lines in creative tension against the Barker's translucent twang. For this gig Portolese will lead a quartet. Friday, October 13, 9 PM, Piano Man, 3801 N. Clark; 773-472-2956.

NEIL TESSER

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/B.P. Sparrow.

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