Composer Michel Portal also plays the clarinet, the saxophone and the small accordion or bandonion. A musician whom it is difficult to classify because he offers so much across arange of categories, Michel Portal is one of those extraordinary characters who is just as at home with classical works “Mozart, Brahms, Schumann, Berg“ as he is with contemporary music where he has performed for Boulez, Stockhausen, Berio, Kagel and Globokar among others.
When the Free movement in France began, Portal became a founder member of the New Phonic Art group, along with the trombone player Bernard Vitet, pianist François Tusques and the drummer Sunny Murray, which based its ideas on collective improvisation, the quest for particular sounds and instant output. He still, however continued to play the dance tunes which inspired him from his youth, popular airs (Benny Bennet, Perez Prado), music from his native Basque country and jazz from his adopted home. In 1971 Portal set up a loose structure called the Michel Portal Unit, which was a forum for European and American musicians to come together for free improvisation. Since 1975 he has composed many scores for cinema and televisions films. He has been awarded 3 Césars (French Oscars) and one Sept d’Or (French television awards).
In the field of European jazz, Portal has a profound influence. Whether he is playing as a duet with Bernard Lubat or Martial Solal; invited to accompany groups (Humair-Jeanneau-Texier; Kühn-Humair-Jenny Clark) or playing as temporary partner with Jack deJohnette, Dave Liebman, Howard Johnson, John Surman, or Mino Cinelu for instance, his effect is notable. The setting can be structured or spontaneous but Portal manages to be both an activist and a reactionary.
Multi-instrumentalist (clarinets, saxophones, bandoneon, etc.) and composer Michel Portal can be considered as the father figure of the French modern jazz scene. Classically trained, Portal gained notoriety through his association with various modern and contemporary music composers. His performance as the featured soloist on Pierre Boulez's Domaines remains a highlight of his career.
However, this exceptional musician also had a serious interest in folk music and jazz. In the late '60s, he initiated the free jazz movement in France with François Tusques, Bernard Vitet, and Sunny Murray. He went on to form New Phonic Art with Vinko Globokar, Carlos Roque Alsina, and Jean-Pierre Drouet to encourage collective improvisation, sonic explorations, and instant composing.
In 1970, Portal developed a fruitful collaboration with John Surman. The following year, he created the long-lived Michel Portal Unit, a structure designed to have European and American musicians meet in a freely improvised setting. In 1975, writing movie soundtracks became a regular activity, which is well-documented on Musiques de Cinémas.
In the '80s and '90s, Portal went through countless new musical encounters, never following a plan and always seizing the moment. At the turn of the century, Portal finally started to make a serious connection with the U.S., and Minneapolis in particular. He enlisted the help of some of Prince's musicians to develop a rock-tinged project which represented yet another departure.