GEORGE FREEMAN & FRANK PORTOLESE
When it comes to individualism–not to mention quirkiness–local jazz guitarist George Freeman is king. He favors an overripe tone and a splashy, at times slapdash technique; as he drives his solos toward destinations unknown, he veers in directions that still manage to raise eyebrows with their surprising twists and bizarre turns. I describe Freeman’s style as “scenic Chicago,” since he and his contemporaries from the 50s–Sun Ra, drummer Wilbur Campbell, and Freeman’s big brother Von–all strayed off the beaten path as they crafted their own responses to the musical challenges of bebop and beyond. Frank Portolese, a gifted guitarist rarely heard within the city limits, has a more subtle individualistic streak: he shows the hard-edged lyricism of Jimmy Raney, but since so few modern players use Raney as a model, Portolese stands out like a newly unearthed gem. He really hits his stride in the open field–running at top speed, the notes blurring into one another despite his clipped attack, his technique shifts into overdrive, leading him to some of the same left-field associations you hear in Freeman’s music. Their joint appearance (with John Whitfield on bass) kicks off the fourth annual Southport Festival, a showcase for the artists on the small but vital eponymous Chicago jazz label. This year the festival expands to include five different locations: Pops for Champagne serves as headquarters, with a Wednesday world-music lineup and next Friday’s “All-Stars” sets, featuring trumpet ace Bobby Lewis and the vibrant drummer Redd Holt. A free concert Thursday evening at the Cultural Center stars Von Freeman and bassist Tatsu Aoki; the Bop Shop and the Museum of Contemporary Art are among the other venues. George Freeman and Portolese play Tuesday at 8:30 PM at Pops for Champagne, 2934 N. Sheffield. (Due to the special nature of this event, I’m guessing the rude chatterers who usually frequent Pops won’t come around, and even if they do, the introductory announcements by Southport founder Bradley Parker-Sparrow might convince them the activity onstage merits a modicum of their attention.) NEIL TESSER
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo by B.P. Sparrow.