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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. During that period, his most notable collaborators included Pierre Favre, Dave Liebman, Martial Solal, Mino Cinelu, and Jack DeJohnette. 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.