Using two sets of musical units, Frank Portolese's second album for the Chicago-based label, Southport, is a mix of five of the guitar player's originals, one classic, and five jazz standards. The use of two units here is not based on who happens to be available for the session, as so often is the case. Rather, the selection of personnel appears to be linked to the type of music that Portolese wants to present. For a more avant garde, creative, improvisational, introspective set, Portolese uses Brian Sandstrom on bass and Rusty Jones on drums for a pianoless trio, doing some artful work on such tunes as "Burn Unit" and Joe Henderson's "Inner Urge." Both of these tracks feature the drums of Rusty Jones in interesting and sometimes daring interplay between him and Portolese. Initially, they start off in different directions, like a heated argument between a couple of old friends using their instruments to make their points. Then quite suddenly, the dispute is resolved and they get back together again, ending the cut in musical accord. Brian Sandstrom's bass is the subtle but articulate cornerstone for this unit. That this group can also wax rhapsodically is shown on "The Dance," where Portolese and Jones exchange musical ideas but in a far less frenetic atmosphere. Jones is clearly from the Elvin Jones school of drumming, where he extends his participation far beyond time-keeping.
Contrast these performances with the rest of the cuts where Portolese is joined by Dave Marr's bass, Tim Davis' drums and Larry Luchowski's piano for more straight-ahead renderings. On "These Foolish Things," Portolese gets enchantingly romantic with his clean-sounding, downtempo rendition of this standard from the Great American Songbook, with Luchowski's piano getting plenty of attention. Miles Davis' "Milestones" is done at an exhilarating tempo in contrast to the almost somber, thoughtful rendition of Wayne Shorter's "Virgo." There's a brief recollection of "Fugue for Tinhorns" from Guys and Dolls during the Portolese penned "Room 608," which swings. The last track, appropriately titled "Last Call," is a vehicle for Portolese's solo virtuosity.
Portolese is obviously familiar with those guitarists who fostered the melodic approach to the guitar, like Tal Farlow and Mundell Lowe. In doing so, Portolese avoids the colder tones of the more modern players to create a warm musical experience for the listener. This is a fine album and is recommended.