by Olga Kizlova
Kyiv is gaining in popularity as a venue for performances by international jazz stars. Recently Kyiv’s Lysenko Column Hall was packed for a concert by the accordionist Richard Galiano and multi-instrumentalist Michel Portal, who played the clarinet, bass clarinet, soprano saxophone, and bandoneon — a small push-button accordion.
The musicians presented their new CD Concerts, which was released this year by the recording company Dreyfus Jazz. The CD, which is a product of the jazz duo’s seven years of playing together, features original compositions by Galiano and Portal, as well as works by Astor Piazzolla, one of the most popular composers of the 20th century and a close friend and partner of Galiano.
What would be the best way to describe the style of Piazzolla, Portal and Galiano? It is improvisational music that combines a rhythmic jazz melody with a mix of different music styles (tango, chanson, bossa nova) and a multitude of ethnic inflections (Gypsy, Italian and even Hutsul-Romanian). After the first four or five bars of the theme, the musicians launched into an endless, whimsical flow of individual and collective fantasizing. Galiano and Portal combine improvisation with their tried-and-true performance pattern, which includes various elaborate components and details. Despite its seeming simplicity, it features a complex musical pattern that involves contemporary musical techniques: clusters, polyphony and multiple timbres. Both musicians perform standing up and seem to play with ease and simplicity.
The perfect acoustic ambiance of the performance, which had no computerized effects, created an informal, even intimate, atmosphere during the concert. Such simplicity is a mark of high professionalism. The superhuman skill of both performers, their “easy breathing,” Galiano’s absolutely noiseless stretching of the accordion bellows and Portal’s effortless playing of wind instruments, as well as the vast sound space created by the huge hall, complemented by a variety of masterful touches, dynamics and vibrantly rhythmic accents, created the impression of an orchestra performance.
The guests played eight compositions, each 10 to 15 minutes long and ended with a grand finale: Piazzolla’s famous “Libertango,” their interpretation one of a dozen that I have heard in my life. But theirs was matchless and wonderful. The audience broke into spirited applause. Happy and grateful, Galiano and Portal picked up their instruments to perform three more compositions. The applause lasted a long time as a reward for the charm and subtlety of the French music in this brilliant rendition by the two jazz virtuosos. At a press conference before the show, the musicians said that even though France knows little about the events unfolding in Ukraine, the “orange revolution,” and many think that music is the last thing on Ukrainians’ minds at the moment, they want to “convey their love and positive vibrations to Ukrainians.” They succeeded admirably, fulfilling the Kyivans’ expectations. Galiano said that Ukraine has wonderful accordionists and lamented the lack of opportunities for them in Ukraine. We cannot help agreeing with him. However, the political transformations underway in our society inspire hope for future improvements in all spheres, for today we are witnessing a social and cultural awakening of our nation.
The concert was held under the auspices of the French embassy, the French Cultural Center and the festival Dniprogastrol.