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Ballister: Dave Rempis (s), Paal Nilssen-Love (d), Fred Lonberg-Holm (c)

W71 in Weikersheim, Germany. March 2024.

Chris Corsano (d), Kelsey Mines (b & voice), Casey Adams (d)

Casa del Xolo, 1/16/2024, Seattle, WA. (pic: Gregg Miller)

Absolutely Sweet Marie: Alexander Beierbach (s), Anke Lucks (tb), Steffen Faul (tp), Gerhard Gschlößl (Tu), Lucia Martinez (d)

Panda Theater, 12/2023, Berlin

Dead Leaf Butterfly: Els Vandeweyer (v), Maike Hilbig (b), Lucía Martínez (d), Lina Allemano (t)

Jazzwerkstatt, 12/2023, Berlin

Han-earl Park (g), Camila Nebbia (s), Yorgos Dimitriadis (d)

Morphine Raum, 12/2023, Berlin

Saturday, May 18, 2024

Clean Feed Tributes (3/3)

 Be sure to see day 1 and day 2 of our celebration of Clean Feed.
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Stef Gijssels:

 Clean Feed and the discovery of modern jazz bands

Clean Feed also has had the knack to identify new bands who never released any albums before. The label's reach was relatively broad, ranging from what we could call 'modern creative' jazz to fully improvised music. Regardless of the style or subgenre, the musicianship together with the quality and coherence of the music always determined the selection for the release, but possibly even more so was the band's singular musical voice and approach. Needless to say that the recording quality is also excellent.

I select a few albums that illustrate this for me. From the tender story-telling of Baloni, the free chamber americana of Ballrogg, the trancendental sound of the Alipio C. Neto Quartet, the psychedelic listening experience of The Godforgottens, the marching band of Fight The Big Bull, the re-hashed bluesy tunes of Roots Magic, the ephemeral avant-garde of Memorize The Sky, to the terror jazz of The Ames Room, these are all albums that are artsy, 'independent' in movie critic terms, bands that stood out of the crowd because of their interesting and creative vision on how music could sound, familiar and yet innovative and boundary-breaking at the same time, welcoming and requiring active attention by the listener ... and of course the inimitable and infectious Angles, a band that was a kind combining all of this. 

There are of course many more examples, but looking back, these records showed something else, something that few other labels would invest in, because of their unconventential sound. "Who is the audience?" I hear other labels ask. 'It's too unusual for traditional jazz lovers, it's too gentle for free jazz addicts, it's too composed for free improv afficionados'. Clean Feed showed that they cared about the music, less about the mental boxes. Thanks for all these great discoveries. All these albums remain little treasures to cherish. 

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Petra Cvelbar, photographer:

Clean Feed was one of my doors of entry into a new world of improvised music. I started to follow the label in 2010, at a time when I was also getting serious about photographing music. The most special album for me is Angles 8's By Way of Deception, Live in Ljubljana. Graphic designer Travassos used one of my photos for the cover and it was our first collaboration. I loved the band, which was a fresh discovery and I liked how everything turned out – both the music and the layout. The follow-up album Angles 9 Injuries is also often on my playlist. Another dear album is Joe McPhee's Sonic Elements. Hearing Joe’s music for the first time at the concert blew me away, after which Travassos & Pedro Costa picked some of my photos for the cover and inner sleeve. It’s actually pretty hard to choose out the albums from the great legacy of the label, but for sure they influenced and broadened my music photography language in many aspects.

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Sarah Grosser:

The Killing Popes - Ego Kills (2021)

On Bandcamp it says that there are 200 limited edition green vinyl pressings of The Killing Popes Ego Kills, but I know for a fact that there are just 199, because the one I ordered in the mail was completely obliterated by the post. It was as if someone had folded the vinyl it in half on purpose. I will never forget the sound it made when I unpacked it: the sound of splitting plastic, crumbling into pieces against the cardboard packaging - shattered, like my heart.

Thank heavens Oli Steidle sent me a replacement because the music slaps.

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Nuno Catarino, critic and editor at jazz.pt:

Adam Lane / Ken Vandermark / Magnus Broo / Paal Nilssen-Love - 4 Corners (2013)

Reunited at the suggestion of Pedro Costa (Clean Feed), Ken Vandermark, Magnus Broo, Adam Lane, and Paal Nilssen-Love forged their collaboration as a quartet in the city of Coimbra, Portugal, during the Jazz Ao Centro festival in June 2006. Over three consecutive nights, the quartet played late-night sets at the warm Salão Brazil, in an “after hours” ambiance. The two North Americans, Lane and Vandermark, brought the compositions and the two Nordics, Broo and Nilssen-Love, got along. Vandermark left aside his usual tenor saxophone and showcased his versatility playing clarinet, bass clarinet, and baritone saxophone, displaying mastery across all three. Broo's trumpet soared with supersonic energy, adding layers of intensity. Lane's bass provided a robust foundation, occasionally incorporating distortion, while Nilssen-Love's drums drove the rhythm. From fiery close-to-hardbop numbers to tender ballads, the quartet demonstrated impeccable chemistry and musicianship. The audience observed the growth of the group along those three nights as the quartet set Coimbra on fire with its electrifying contemporary jazz. Fortunately, these performances were preserved in this album, a pure gem within a rich catalogue.

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Marcello Lorrai, writer and critic with Il Manifesto and Radio Popolare:

Rob Mazurek – Milan (Clean Feed, 2024)

At Radio Popolare, an independent radio station in Milan founded in 1976, we have a little auditorium with a stage and 99 seats. I have attended many of Rob Mazurek’s concerts over the years, also his wedding in Sardinia in 2012, and have developed a friendship with him. Last year in May, I invited Rob to take part, along with Corrado Beldì, the artistic director of Novara Jazz, in my weekly radio program “Jazz Anthology” for a live presentation of the upcoming 2023 edition of the festival – where Rob was playing with the Exploding Star Orchestra and others projects – and to perform something during the show. Rob was pleased to find a piano in the auditorium and played two solo pieces with piccolo trumpet, piano, bells and voice. He enjoyed the acoustics of the place, and felt good with our technicians. 

The next evening during dinner, Rob reminded me of his solo album recorded in 2014 in Rome at the Italian State-owned radio-television Rai studios by the program “Rai Radiotre Suite Jazz”, resulting on the Clean Feed album entitled Rome and said: “What about a solo album recorded at Radio Popolare and entitled “Milan”? I can ask Clean Feed if they would publish it.”  

In the following weeks we agreed for a three-day residency at Radio Popolare in September, and I suggested beginning with a solo performance broadcasted live during the show. On September 25th, 2023 at 11 p.m. “Jazz Anthology” was on the air with a dozen friends in the room. After a short introduction, Rob started his solo. We agreed on letting the performance go non-stop until about 10 minutes before the end of the program, so we could have a little live talk after it. The solo turned out amazing. At 11.50 Rob stopped : I didn’t understand for sure if he was taking a break or if it was the end of the piece, and in doubt I preferred not interrupting the magic; from his side, seeing that I was not speaking, Rob thought he had to play some more, and played until a few seconds before the end of the program, just in time for me to thank the audience for their attention. It was a fortunate misunderstanding. We had a 50-minutes solo, perfectly rounded by the wonderful last ten minutes. During the next two days Rob recorded new material with the technicians, also in the auditorium. We listened to and mixed the new tracks, and Rob was satisfied with the result, thinking of releasing the “studio” recordings.

We didn’t listen to the recording of the live performance; I just told Rob that in my opinion that first evening of performance during the show had a strong and beautiful coherence, with great artistic value. At the last moment – almost for doubt’s sake – Rob agreed to listen to those live recordings. He immediately felt it was something of worth, and decided to use the live recordings – without any editing, only mixing – for the Clean Feed record Milan.


Bill Frisell at XJazz Festival, Lausitzer Platz, Berlin, 5/9/2024



The pulse of doof-doof resonates throughout the contemporary church, psyching up the Berlin punters for a night with the gentile American guitar legend, Bill Frisell. Soon after, the beat is switched up to a kind of Sunday chill-out groove, contemporary soul; the volume, slightly lowered. Before long, the techno is back. Only in Berlin.

In an act of public defiance, one anarchic, heavy-set man ignores the safety barrier to sit on the church organ stool. Soon after he is shooed away by a shocked sound engineer. It’s a rebellious city, this one. There are a good handful of Frisell clones in the audience and one guy who looks strikingly like bass player Nick Dunston. Turns out it is Nick Dunston. He’s in the support band. Most of the Bill fanboys hover around the guitar side of the stage, taking photographs of Bill’s resting guitar and his little collection of stuffed animals, all within grabbing distance. The crowd is split into two distinct areas: the guitar side, which is dense, and the piano side, sparse. Lotta greys in the church tonight but there was one silver-haired lady with a lip stud piercing, reminding you once again of the city you’re in.

Tonight's demographic? Old, white, but interesting. Bill is apparently some kind of style icon. He alone is responsible for the look of the circular glasses, the likes of which so many have since adopted. Is this a coincidence? An homage? For every clone, there is an atypical, younger counterpoint. The woman with the Kraftwerk Autobahn tote wins the merch game this evening.

Support act trumpeter Anthony Hervey commands the stage in his electric blue oversized shirt covered in bright yellow fans. The print is as fun and confident as the bouncy compositions.

“We play the way we live,” Hervey announces, “We’re gonna have a good time.”

It’s the speedier second piece that really wins over the crowd. The first trumpet solo cracks the ice and is met with thunderous applause which resonates up into the church’s high ceiling. Jesus is giving a thumbs up.

Pianist Johannes Von Ballestrem’s sock game is strong: rainbow argyle. At one point, he is offered the space for a sweet and delicate piano solo that segues into one of those jazz songs that comes on in the movie when the protagonist is strolling along in the moonlight, alone in the rain, wondering where it all went wrong in his life, possibly contemplating suicide, but most likely just in need of some tenderness and understanding, in the form of hard liquor. You know the kind of tune I’m talking about. During a ballad, some guy with a set of keys on his belt wanders the periphery of the room offering a free Wollesonic massage to every seated person he passes, and smacking one woman in the face.

Hervey’s anthem “Soul Food” is hard to resist. Guest singer Natalie Greffel is so contagiously joyful - she lights up the room with her happiness. When Hervey picks up the trumpet during the following song, folks in the audience are hyped and shouting "Woo" and "Yeah" before his solo is even over. It’s really infectious. The passive side is bopping. The "Bill" side is even starting to catch on. At any rate, the support act is qualified and fun. I’m so happy that Anthony decided to learn to play the trumpet because he is so good at it.

During the pause, the lines for the bar and the loo extend out the door of the church. Strategically, drinking is a bad idea as both queues are glacially slow. A few people appear to have obtained the elusive blood of christ, thanks be to the bar staff.

There is no bathroom backstage. This becomes apparent when the man of the hour is escorted through the crowd to use the one in the lobby – it's occupied. Everyone is playing it cool and just casually ignoring the awkward situation. Moments before the concert starts a conversation is overheard: “As these legendary musicians age, sure they lose their technical virtuosity but they gain… something else.”
 
Maybe it's patience. From time to time as he’s playing, a small smile escapes Bill’s lips. He’s famously gentle and introverted, yet confident and sure of his aural statement. Inquisitive picking and delay-pedal combos make for some satisfyingly obtuse harmonies. It starts out as mysterious, tending towards becoming a little repetitive, but soon enough we are blessed with some slightly prettier delayed loops to balance things out. A beer bottle rolls past in amateur accompaniment.

Bill seems totally elated and humbled by all the attention. During his only stage banter for the night, he can’t help but comment on the warm adoration and vast sea of fans, of which he is right in the middle: ”It’s like the Beatles or something!”

There is no doubting Frisell’s ability to write a tune, and indeed to play, still. You just have to be willing to come along on his journey, which is conducted at his pace. For some, that pace might be a little slow, but for the guy next to me, this was probably the best night of 2024. Maybe even his whole life. Not a song went by without an audible gasp, or an exclamation of joyous disbelief, both in German and English. Some people did appear to start yawning, others swayed with closed eyes. Sometimes Frisell just gets absorbed into his little world and it just loops around; mesmerising and hypnotic. It’s a mood.

People are getting tired of standing so they begin casually sitting down. The space and the music allows for it though, and it’s not particularly awkward. Rudy Royston’s drum solo brings the house down - a testament to just how restrained he has been this whole time. Actually, Rudy often steals the show, ever so subtly.

A good Frisell song feels like coming home to a familiar embrace with someone who has missed you very much. They've been wondering how you are, and can't wait to hear all your stories. One can't help but be moved by a slightly overdriven, lead-break over a seemingly familiar main melody. But it’s never too long before the dissonance returns, as Bill doesn't seem to want to let anyone get too emotionally attached all at once. He still has more than a few secrets and surprises left.

Bill’s classic version of the theme from On Her Majesty's Secret Service closes out the evening and some audience members appear to be having a religious experience. It’s an effortless encore and Bill returns to the stage, genuinely overjoyed at the thunderous ovation. Berlin absolutely loves him, and seeing his humble delight was nothing short of heartwarming. He deserves the spotlight, and all the accolades. Sure, at 73, he’s in his autumn years, but Bill is all set - a beautiful church performance like this guarantees his entry to the Pearly Gates. Long may his entry be delayed.

MUSICIANS
Bill Frisell, guitar
Thomas Morgan, bass
Rudy Royston, drums

SUPPORT:
Anthony Hervey, trumpet
Johannes Von Ballestrem, piano
Nick Dunston, bass
Ugo Alunni, drums
Natalie Greffel, vocals

Friday, May 17, 2024

Clean Feed Tributes (2/3)

 Be sure to see day 1 of our celebration of Clean Feed.

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Taylor McDowell:

Cortex - Avant-Garde Party Music (2017)

Certain albums - the combination of the music, title and cover art - evoke feelings and solicit expectations. Cortex’s Avant-Garde Party Music does so for me. Should we expect danceable, hummable, jubillous and free-wheeling sounds from this strain of party music? Hell yes, we should! Consider the cover art: an older woman, suit-clad in mustard yellow, slightly hunched and facing away; the tongue-in-cheek aloofness/politeness to be the face of such outrageously free and swinging music. And lastly the musicians: a sort of A-team of Norweigian improvisers - Thomas Johansson (trumpet), Kristoffer Alberts (saxophones), Ola Høyer (bass) and Gard Nilssen (drums). The result? One of my favorite albums of this last decade. It’s unpretentious, it’s fun, and it’s full of soul. It’s got all of the raw, abrasive skronk to feed my inner free-jazz fiend, but is still chock-full of memorable melodies and hearty swing. Dare I say, should I play it at the next social shindig it would hold court to some of the more adventurous party-goers.


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Eve Risser White Desert Orchestra - Les Deux Versants se Regardent (2016)

You always find new artists with new labels, and thanks to Clean Feed I got to know the French pianist Eve Risser, a composer-improviser-bandleader with a rich and completely unorthodox imagination. Les Deux Versants se Regardent (The Two Sides Look at Each Other, reviewed for the Free Jazz Collective by Lee Rice Epstein) is one of six albums that Risser released through Clean Feed and the only one with White Desert Orchestra (she released another album with the Red Desert Orchestra, Clean Feed, 2022), and still one of my favorite albums of hers. It reflects on a mystical experience Risser had when visiting Bryce Canyon in Utah, where the thousands of fairy chimneys reaching to the sky seemed to her “an enormous choir of singers ready to intone the most powerful of earthly songs”. The chamber tenet - White Desert Orchestra, with Risser on prepared piano - radiates beautifully Risser’s inclusive and always poetic sonic universe that embraces and experiments with intricate elements of contemporary music, jazz, post-rock and ambient, often at the same time, but never surrenders to familiar courses. It is inventive and dreamy, playful and wild. Pure magic music that transforms the timeless vibrations of the earth into healing vibrations. Thank Eve Risser, Clean Feed and Pedro Costa for such a great album.



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Don Phipps

Why the Chris Pitsiokos Clean Feed album “Silver Bullet in the Autumn of Your Years” Deserves Special Recognition

It was tough to narrow the selection to a single album from the Clean Feed discography and say this one deserves recognition above all others. Suffice it to say, there were five most excellent finalists:

  • Matthias Spillmann Trio: “Live at the Bird’s Eye Jazz Club”
  • Ilia Belorukov, Gabriel Ferrandini: “Disquiet”
  • Caterina Palazzi Sudoku Killer: “Asperger”
  • Chris Pitsiokos: “Silver Bullet in the Autumn of Your Years”
  • Chris Pitsiokos, Susana Santos Silva, Torbjörn Zetterberg: “Child Of Illusion”

All of these albums are excellent and worth spending time with for sure! But there can be only one winner. And the winner is?

What makes the album the crème de la crème?

When I reviewed this album for another website (All About Jazz), I used the following words to describe it: “adventurous, hair-raising, mind-bending, dense, fibrous, layered, hallucinogenic, twisted.” Why these words? Pitsiokis’s album is extremely trippy and defies categorization. I described it as “Beyond Jazz.”

The album contains three definitive masterpieces: “Positional Play,” with its accelerated future sound, the title cut “Silver Bullet in the Autumn of Your Years,: which features Pitsiokos’ breathless sax play and some ear-bending guitar work (courtesy of Sam Lisabeth), and “Anthropod,” with its eerie phrasing and disturbing, gruesome musical imagery.

I loved it then and I love it now. And as one in the autumn of his years, it truly is a silver bullet. Enjoy!

Is this, to borrow a phrase, the shape of jazz to come? Or perhaps this might be the shock of jazz to come. Like a drug-induced trip to Burrough's Interzone, the beyond jazz music of Silver Bullet in the Autumn of Your Years awaits.


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By Nick Ostrum:

Angles – Every Woman is a Tree (2008)

I had followed Martin Küchen through various projects by the time I came across this album: Exploding Customer, Trespass Trio, a couple gradualist releases on Creative Sources. Every Woman is a Tree, however, opened my ears. It spoke with a soulful melodicism laying somewhere between Ornette Coleman and Albert Ayler. Yet, somehow, it sounded fresh. Anyone familiar with the Angles series – now eleven releases deep – or the work of the other Norse contributing to this first incarnation – Magnus Broo, Mats Äleklint, Mattias Ståhl, Knell Nordeson, Johan Berthling – likely already knows some of the contours of this these earnest and pleaful lamentaitons that pointedly burst with ebullience, but at the time it was a revelation to me.

Evelyn Davis, Fred Frith, Phillip Greenlief - Lantskap Logic (2018)

In 2019, I wrote a rather gushing review of this first (of two) releases by this trio. Referring to the first track, Your ever-loving arms, I said, “The tones elevate. Rather than evoking gloom as some of the albums I recently reviewed have, this one evokes light and elevation. Rather than congestion, one feels space, motion, and, at the end, elation. Listening to this track is like traveling a path towards some abstract state of elation. The textures are deep, varied, and changing.” The second track was both lurid and dark, comprised of curious origin.(Nod to Greenlief for correcting at least one of my misattributions of these.) In the end, I referred to it as “absolutely stunning.” Upon revisitation, it still is. This album remains as enigmatic and enchanting as it was a half-decade ago.

Thursday, May 16, 2024

Clean Feed Tributes (1/3)

Dear readers, in case you are wondering about the focus on Clean Feed this week, let me briefly explain. Earlier this year, we were shocked to see a message from Clean Feed head Pedro Costa announcing that after over 20 years it was likely that the label would be shutting down at the end of the year. Contemplating this bleak news, we felt we needed to do something.

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David Cristol:

After I got into jazz and improvised music, it took a long time before I had a notion of an existing Portuguese scene in those fields – only the name Carlos Zingaro was vaguely familiar, playing with French proponents of the latter approach and appearing on labels closer to home. Clean Feed was therefore entirely responsible for opening my consciousness, and ears, to a wide and ever widening pool of creative artists, in the same manner as Tzadik and Avant from New York were opening my vistas to lesser-known contemporary composers (through the "Composer series") or Japanese performers (the "New Japan" category) I had only heard about. 

If landmarks are useful up to a point, what I like about Clean Feed is that it has no categories, hierarchies, no flag-waving or obvious indication of where the music comes from or what it’s going to sound like. Records and bands are not separated under banners, all albums appear equal, with only the listener's ears and curiosity to make out the music and forge an opinion about it. Like entering into a movie theater without knowing what the film's about. At most you recognize some names on the cover or poster. So, you get the maximum effect from the work itself, without preconceptions or prejudice. You're in for some surprises, mostly good ones. Music is an artform that doesn't need borders, as it doesn't need too many words attached to it. Finally, each release feels like a labor of love from all involved.

Favorite records include Rodrigo Amado's "Wire Quartet" (with Hernâni Faustino, another early Clean Feed associate, on bass), Hugo Carvalhais' "Grand Valis", Avram Fefer's "Testament", "Ticonderoga" by Joe McPhee, Jamie Saft, Joe Morris and Charles Downs, Baloni's albums, Warriors of the Wonderful Sound playing the music of Muhal Richard Abrams, Tony Malaby's "Tamarindo Live", "Ninth Square" by the Evan Parker/Joe Morris/Nate Wooley trio, "Sounding Tears" by the Evan Parker/Mat Maneri/Lucian Ban trio, Pharoah Sanders' collaboration with Rob Mazurek Chicago/Sao Paulo Underground (a live recording split between a LP and a CD), Ivo Perelman/Daniel Levin/Torbjörn Zetterberg's double CD "Soulstorm", Luis Lopes and  Julien Desprez's "Boa Tarde" LP on Shhpuma.  Recent listens are just as revelatory such as Caveiras' "Ficar Vivo" on Shhpuma. The label's legacy is such, however, that there remain dozens of albums I haven’t heard yet.

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Paul Acquaro:

My introduction to Clean Feed occurred many years ago (in 2010), when I came across a review by Stef of an album by Portuguese bassist Carlos Barretto. Labirintos by Barretto's Lokomotiv quartet had just the right combination of rock and avant-garde leanings to really capture my early developing interest in experimental music. I was coming from a steady diet of main-stream jazz, fusion (ohh, way too much of it), and rock, and Lokomotiv hit all the right notes. Going back and listening to this album and the earlier self-titled Lokomotiv is a nice marker for me of how different my listening habits are now, and also just how good this music still sounds.
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Another album that caught my ear, a little later, was the post-rock / out-jazz quartet of Lawnmower featuring the duel guitars of Geoff Farina and Dan Littleton, the gritty saxophone of Jim Hobbs, and the drumming of Luthar Gray. The group spun ambient textures that were new to my ears, and along with t11he moments of explosive energy, really served to expand how I was hearing music. I let go a little more of my need for obvious structures and allowed alternatives to fill their function.

Then, just two years later (2012), I am a fully fledged member of the Free Jazz Blog and have 'drunk the (experimental music) Kool-Aid,' as they say. On guitarist, woodwindist and above all, composer, Elliot Sharp's trio outing Aggregat, the melodic strands are strong and captivating, but its the diffuse interlocking of the rhythm section that really worms it way into my brain. Upright bassist Brad Jones and drummer Ches Smith keep the music flowing so well - tightly connected but loosely affiliated - that when Sharp unstraps himself from the forms that he has established, he never tumbles into pure chaos. For me, guitar and bass clarinet are instant attractions and the music on Aggregat supports this bias handily.

Now, taking a leap in time to 2020 ... a year that we all want to collectively try to forget ... I had the good fortune to travel to Lisbon for the "Jazz 2020" festival. It was between lockdowns and travel was difficult and risky, which meant that for a weekend I had Lisbon basically to myself as a tourist, and it was great. Adding to that euphoria, I also got to hear The Selva for the first time. In a sense, the music from the trio of cellist Ricardo Jacinto, bassist Gonçalo Almeida and drummer Nuno Morão was a culmination of a journey of musical openness for me. I heard their minimalist groove and the electronic colorations in a new generous way and found myself simply transfixed by their set. They have a series of album on Clean Feed, starting with the eponymous 2017 release through last year's Camarão-Girafa. Each album has captured the group at new stages of evolution and each one is equally enjoyable. Thinking about it in this way, I would also venture that my own musical evolution is far from complete - phew!

Last mention that I'd like to make is the Humanization 4Tet from Lisbon guitarist Luis Lopes. This groups taps into my deep-seated need for robust musical expression. Yes, I have learned to appreciate textural and nuanced atmospherics in music, I have let go of obvious musical structures of chord changes, and set aside a need for purty diatonic melodies and congruent rhythms, but I still like them. My first introduction to this group with, in addition to Lopes, saxophonist Rodrigo Amado and the rhythm section of brothers Aaron and Stefan González (bass and drums) has all of those components in some shape and unexpected form. It was their lst album, 2020's Believe, Believe that spent months in my car stereo and never grew stale. It contains Free Jazz, but Amado steers clear of the atonal abyss, Lopes modulates - from quick melodic bursts to explosive textures, and the two brothers keep the pieces connected with solid, but flexible, time.

There are many other albums that I could mention, but I'll leave it this for now. My simple hope is that Clean Feed finds a way to continue, their contribution to my musical growth and enjoyment has certainly benefited, and I suppose that is true for many others as well.

Clean Feed and the Promotion of Portuguese Jazz

By Stef Gijssels

In the early 00's my interest in music was almost inevitably channeled to the Portuguese Clean Feed label. The step from the known New York crowd to Lisbon was a small one. Checking out new albums with free jazz icons such as Steve Swell, Ken Filiano and Lou Grassi led me to "The Implicate Order at Seixal", and my love for the music of "The Nu Band", also led me to the same label, with their "Live At The Bop Shop".  The label was then also accessible through "emusic.com", at that time one of the easiest sources for downloading digital music, and a very cheap one for improvised music because the cost was measured per track. Some one-track albums were as a result really unusually cheap. Other musicians that were released on Clean Feed were Gery Hemingway, Denis Gonzalez, Kevin Norton, Ken Vandermark, Whit Dickey, Steve Lehman, Ivo Perelman, to name just a few. The list is sheer endless and the quality of the albums remarkable. 

But among those American musicians, either in separate albums or within international bands, we got acquainted with the musical power of Portugal, with top musicians like Rodrigo Amado, Carlos Zingaro, Bernardo Sassetti, Carlos Baretto, Luis Lopes. Even if the initial years of the label were surprisingly characterised by all the free jazz luminaries, gradually these Portuguese names became familiar in the same movement and effort. How else would we have come across this extraordinary RED Trio with Gabriel Ferrandini, Hernani Faustino, Rodrigo Pinheiro, or with the unusual sound of Sei Miguel's trumpet and voice? The brilliant trumpet playing of Susana Santos Silva? The equally stupefying work by Luis Vicente on trumpet and Marcelo Dos Reis on guitar? Or Gonçalo Almeida on bass? Or Pedro Melo Alves on drums? These musicians all have some common factors among their obvious differences, and that is a strong and unique voice, a personal sound that is as free and unconvential as it is lyrical and musical, creative without being off-putting, fascinating also for the less trained listener. Credit to Pedro Costa for giving them this level of exposure next to the long list of established musicians. 

If the Portuguese government is serious about the promotion of its own art and culture, they should ensure that the work of Clean Feed is recognised and rewarded for their efforts. I do not think any other organisation has done as much to give Portugal a place in international modern arts as Clean Feed. 

Pedro Costa and his team threw their net very wide, and managed to become the pinnacle for the top artists from the US, the UK, the Nordics, and many other European countries. The label's portfolio offers the "Who Is Who"of free improvisation, creative modern jazz and the avant-garde, including the more genre-bending explorative work on the Shhpuma sister label. Clean Feed created artists, by giving them an international exposure they would not have received otherwise, and I think the Swedish band "Angles" ranks among the top of those. 

Here is an overview of my favorite Clean Feed records by Portuguese musicians. I can only recommend that you check them out, listening joy is guaranteed. 




Wednesday, May 15, 2024

Warriors of the Wonderful Sound – Pedro Costa & Clean Feed


Pedro Costa. Photo by Petra Cvelbar

Interview by David Cristol

Clean Feed was born on March 16, 2001. 23 years later, the label has a back catalogue in excess of 700 titles. Based in Lisbon, it was founded by a group of passionate music fans and friends who didn’t know the first thing about making a record to begin with. Music lover and concerts organizer Pedro Costa emerged as the ringmaster. Graphic designers Rui Garrido and Travassos helped define the label’s visual identity, while the latter also curates the sister outlet Shhpuma, dedicated to more experimental aesthetics, with 50 titles published in less than four years. In 2021, Clean Feed had its 20th birthday and hasn’t slowed down since, releasing records at a faster rate than any other company, demonstrating continuity, loyalty, as well as welcoming new talent, in spite of an ever-floundering records business worldwide. Portuguese musicians such as Luis Lopes, Luis Vicente, Rodrigo Amado, the Lencastre brothers, Sei Miguel, Carlos Bica, Susana Santos Silva, Joao Barradas, Hugo Carvalhais, Pedro Melo Alves are well-represented, but the scope is really international with records from Kaja Draksler, Mette Rasmussen, Eve Risser, Sophie Agnel, Evan Parker, Ken Vandermark, Ches Smith, Frantz Loriot, Larry Ochs… For enthusiasts of non-formatted jazz, the landscape would be unimaginable without the label’s steady, singular and quality output.

David Cristol: Can you present the new edition of Causa – Efeito?

Pedro Costa: It’s the second year of the festival in Lisbon, mostly outside of the jazz canons, with unusual instrumentation, and carrying out the use of freedom in the XXIst century.


How did you put the program together?

We wanted to pay tribute to three of the most influential musicians and composers of modern jazz: Michael Formanek, Tim Berne and Eve Risser. Each one plays twice at the festival. Formanek has a great impact on the scene since he has moved to Lisbon. He’s a new pivot for the music these days. We can’t thank him and his wife Sandra enough for their choice.

The first edition of Causa – Efeito was essentially a showcase of Clean Feed projects. Is there a running theme to this year’s edition?

The running theme is freedom. Our revolution day happened 50 years ago. We should always celebrate this date, it’s our true national day. Also, we have the focus on the three artists I mentioned before, who I believe helped shape creative jazz.



What were you doing in 1974? Do you remember the revolution?


I remember my parents took me and my brother, 5 and 7 years old, to Lisbon in order to celebrate freedom. We drove around Marquês de Pombal [a place in the city center] with little Portuguese flags screaming “FREEDOM!” to each other. I wasn't much aware of what was coming that would be so different from what we had before, I was happy because my parents and everybody were happy. Freedom sounded good, still does.


How did the idea occur to do the festival in Lisbon, and how did NOVA university get into the action?

NOVA University turned 50 years of age last year and they wanted to have a jazz festival there that would be different from other festivals that happen in the country, with a focus on innovation and experimentation. I believe this idea came from Clara Rowland who’s the responsible for the Cultural program of the University. She’s an incredible person to work with and I’m more than grateful for the chance she gave me to program the festival.


Did you organize concerts before you did the Portalegre and Causa – Efeito festivals?

The Portalegre Jazz Festival has over 20 years of history already. I started curating the program in 2011. Besides Portalegre and Causa – Efeito, I curated the jazz program at Culturgest for 10 years with two series, “Isto é Jazz?” and “Jazz *351”. I curated the jazz and blues part of “Festa da Música” at Centro Cultural do Belem for some years and also did the program for “Jazz às Quintas” there. I was also curating “Jazz ao Centro” in Coimbra for the first 10 years (2003-2012). I still collaborate with Casa da Música and Seixal Jazz for some concerts. I co-curated the Jazz Festival Ljubljana with Bogdan Benigar between 2011 and 2017.


Can you describe the Portalegre Jazz Fest which you curated the latest edition of in April 2024?

Portalegre is a district capital three hours away from Lisbon or Porto. Less and less people live there but the place is just beautiful. People are great and curious about the music. It’s an ongoing relationship I have with them, especially with Joaquim Ribeiro who’s the artistic director of CAE Portalegre, the venue that hosts the festival. I love being there presenting some cutting-edge music along with less “out” projects. This year we had the opportunity to have Mario Laginha and Pedro Burmester for a piano duo which was definitely unique. Pedro Carneiro did a marimba solo recital, Mario Costa played the great Chromosome album with Benoit Delbecq, Bruno Chevillon and Gileno Santana subbing for Cuong Vu, and we had Liba Villavecchia Trio + Luís Vicente, with John Edwards replacing Alex Reviriego who couldn’t make it. The Sophie Agnel/John Edwards/Steve Noble trio amazed the crowd and it feels strange that they don’t get to perform in every festival of creative music. Garfo, a Portuguese quartet with Bernardo Tinoco, João Almeida, João Fragoso and João Sousa closed the festival in style, they’re an interesting cast of talented young players.


Is organizing festivals a complementary activity to managing a record label?

I started organizing concerts before I released any music. The first festival I did the program for was in 1988, but unfortunately in the end it didn’t happen. Next was in 2000 with my brother, something called “LX Meskla”, a mix of jazz and world music.


Is producing concerts different than producing records and which do you prefer?

I think it’s basically the same thing. These days it feels better to produce concerts because it’s a situation where I can pay musicians.


What was the initial impulse, concept and decisions leading to the creation of Clean Feed? Did it happen fast and spontaneously or was it a carefully studied venture?

To start a label was in my mind since I was a kid. By the influence of my older brother Carlos, I stepped deep into music at an early age. I started to buy records when I was 9 and always followed record labels and all the logistics related to records. I loved reading liner notes, learning where the music was recorded and so on. I loved music and I loved records. Still do. In 2000 my brother Carlos, me and two friends made a music trip to New York with the idea of starting a label. There we attended dozens of concerts and met a lot of musicians like Lou Grassi, Steve Swell, Kevin Norton, Wilber Morris, Steve Lehman, Angelica Sanchez, Todd Capp, Ehran Elisha, Dave Ballou, Tony Malaby… This was certainly the final impulse to create a label that acted globally and with a special care for graphics. I worked in record stores since the late eighties and knew how important the design for records should be.

Clean Feed display. Photo by Petra Cvelbar

 
Did you have a background in music? You were a volunteer journalist at some point, right?

I never learned to play an instrument. Portugal was a much different country in the 1970s. Anyhow I always had a song in my head – still do. Sometimes the calling for this song was so loud that I had to go home from the beach where I was with my friends to listen to it. I was about 12/13 then. I was a volunteer journalist for a long time as a way to be close to the music, to connect. I wrote for several newspapers and magazines and I was the editor for the first two Jazz magazines here, All Jazz and Jazz.pt. I also had two radio shows with Hernâni Faustino in the late 1990s. 



Are there criteria for an album to be released by Clean Feed, and how did these criteria evolve over the years?

I set up the label to record fresh music, to cover the so-called free scene. Clean Feed’s goal is to highlight jazz that can only be made today, whether it's improvised or written.


For years I thought you had access to unlimited financing and didn’t understand how you could do it otherwise. I later understood you were an entirely independent operation.

 (laughs) Some people tend to think like this. The truth is, all the money I make with concerts promoting, teaching, etc. reverts to the label. So, when the times were good and I was curating festivals and venues like Jazz Festival Ljubljana, Culturgest where I worked for 10 years, CCB where I produced the “Jazz ás Quintas” series and other things, all the money was used to keep the company [Trem Azul, founded at the same time as Clean Feed] and label going. That made it possible to support many artists and feed the scene. So, if anyone wants to support the label just hire me as a curator.


Is there a specific audience for Portuguese musicians on the label? Did they get noticed abroad thanks to the label’s work?

I hope so but I can’t really tell. Releasing on the label is not enough to get noticed abroad, artists must do their share of work to make it happen. They need to organize tours, promote their music and so on .


Where is the best audience for Clean Feed? The US, Europe, which country shows more interest?

Showing more interest doesn’t mean more sales. Take Norway for instance, there seems to be an interest for the label but sales of our records there are pretty insignificant, as in Norway people don’t buy so much new music. We sell quite well in the US and used to do in Japan as well but not so much there anymore. The music sales are so low these days that it makes it difficult to say where the interest is today. The sales in Portugal are totally irrelevant.  

You must have had hundreds of fabulous experiences, meeting and working with all those musicians you probably already admired. Can you recall a story, a moment that you will think about forever?

 I admire many musicians I got to work with and that’s the most incredible thing about the label. Tim Berne, Louis Sclavis, Anthony Braxton, Carlos Bica, Mark Dresser, Gerry Hemingway, Charles Gayle, Joe McPhee, Ken Vandermark, Ray Anderson, Dennis Gonzalez, Whit Dickey, Evan Parker, Joe Morris, John Lindberg, Fred Frith, Elliott Sharp, and so on were longtime heroes. Getting to work with them, releasing their music was just phenomenal. I also met other musicians through concert promoting or just by chance over the years. That is just beyond words. I can give you a list of people that I got to know fairly well at some point like Sam Rivers, Andrew Hill, Muhal Richard Abrams, Oliver Lake, Wadada Leo Smith, Joachim Kuhn, Peter Brötzmann, Henry Threadgill, James Blood Ulmer, Bill Stewart, Reggie Workman…

A story that springs to mind took place at the Jazz em Agosto festival in 2011. Ornette Coleman was about to play. Me, my brother Carlos, Hernani and Travassos were carrying a huge amount of CD boxes to sell after the gig. We had the CDs stored down in the building and took them to the loft where we would sell them. Every time we had to pass very close to Ornette’s dressing room. He was just outside the room and we saw him there but we were too shy to talk to him, and we were busy up and down the stairs. At some point he called us and said, “Come on guys, let’s have a photo,” just out of the blue.


Clean Feed + Ornette

Different aesthetics are present on the label – which can make it difficult for magazines to zero in on a particular album, especially if it doesn’t fit into a jazz category that some press editors need. Yet, ECM has a diversity too, and that never bothered critics. When hearing the records there is a unity to them, they bear the Clean Feed ethos, maybe could only come out on the label. Would you agree, and how would you define the element that you do that other labels are not doing? 


Well, the same applies for graphics. Ideally every Clean Feed record would be unique in sound and design but that’s hard to reach when you put out 50 records a year. Unlike ECM, Clean Feed was never about any aesthetics in particular, design and sound wise. After nearly 700 releases however, you can tell there is some kind of thread. That thread is mine and Travassos’ head and heart, I wish there was less of that and even more variety. Every record should be totally unique, that’s how I see it. Sometimes on ECM records, a label I respect immensely, you can’t tell the ones you have or don’t have based on the similar layout. Coming from a small scene for creative music back in 2001, we could see the world without getting blind with our own scene. While other labels cover only one or just a few scenes, we are used to see from a distance. The idea from the beginning was to see the world as a global scene with many different accents. One day someone will map out Clean Feed and see that there’s not another label in the whole history of labels that covered as many different countries and scenes. Connecting dots as Clean Feed has been doing is perhaps our strongest achievement.



In those two decades, do you feel the label has fulfilled its goal, helped with the exposure and careers of many artists, both from Portugal and abroad?


I hope so, I just wanted to do more and distribute more bread to the incredible musicians we have been working with. Hopefully, somehow Clean Feed helped bands to achieve some kind of international acclaim. Some did, some didn’t. 


What were the best Clean Feed years, in your opinion, musically, in terms of local and international recognition, and sales?

I believe 2005-2015 was our best period in terms of sales. In terms of the music, it’s very difficult to say, I think that in a few years the current days will be recognized and revelatory. Because of the lack of resources, we cannot work with more popular names such as Tony Malaby, Mark Dresser or Anthony Braxton anymore but it doesn’t mean the music is less important or less vital. 


Were there planned albums that either the artists or you didn't feel good enough for release and that were shelved?

Sure there were.

Portugal seems to have a great number of labels now, most working independent, often operated by musicians who are also present on Clean Feed, of which they seem an extension. Maybe they wouldn’t exist without the Clean Feed experience. Were there jazz labels with visibility before in Portugal? Something you could learn something from?

There was just one jazz label before Clean Feed in Portugal. It was called Groove and from them we mostly learned how not to do things.


Do you work with Travassos on the covers, express an opinion or give directions? Do musicians also participate in the concepts or choices of the covers? They’re a remarkable, even essential element of the Clean Feed & Shhpuma identity, a feast for the eyes.

 Our first designer was Rui Garrido who did the first 104 covers up until 2008. Then Travassos whom I met in the late 1990’s stepped in for the next 550 or so. Travassos joined in 2005 to work at the shop and only later started to work on the album covers.

I always worked together with Travassos, and the musicians through me. Travassos sends some ideas first and then we decide about the way to go. Later I usually send two or three proposals to the musicians and sometimes they also bring in some ideas. In the end we’re all pleased with the results. The opposite never happened so far.


Is there a fixed modus operandi? Do you get sent recordings, or initiate them? For example, do you suggest musicians to form a trio or record a special repertoire – like Zorn did sometimes with Tzadik?

I hardly ever suggested any musicians to form a band. More important than that is to give room for working bands to develop their ideas. Then either I take it or not. Clean Feed means feeding with a clean signal, in video words. So that’s what I do here. Sometimes I suggest a different order to the tunes on the record, sometimes express that one tune should be left out of the record, but I don’t mess with it too much. I’m not a musician or a God. In my perspective that is wrong. Sometimes curators like to play God and impose ad-hoc bands just to have names on it and bring an audience to the concerts because of that. I rather give the audience good solid music instead.


You didn't slow down on quantity. No other label (be it of avant-garde jazz like Intakt and Rogue Art, or bigger ones like Impulse! and Blue Note) is issuing that many releases every month. This might be difficult to understand for the casual observer. Wouldn’t slowing down and focusing on selected releases help better identify the label, better promote specific albums and keep the whole thing afloat?

 I hear you David, that’s a good point and you’re not the first one with that question/suggestion. In fact, that’s the smartest thing to do, I wish I could follow that, I wish I was smart enough and pragmatic enough to do so. The thing is, I’m obsessed with music, new music. When you relate to music like I do, in number and quality it’s hard to say no. I say no to hundreds of high-quality proposals every year, many more that the number of records released. To change that state of affairs I would have to stop listening to those demos.


Even the truest fan cannot afford the economics, or living space, of buying many CDs and LPs each month. You have to be stable, with a job and income, etc. Which sometimes makes it look like jazz is for the rich, also true of festival audiences. It’s a tricky equation when those who are into the music cannot afford to buy much product, or at least have to make choices between a wide array of bands and labels.

Summer pop festivals are packed with people who make choices and have jobs, or parents that have jobs. We music lovers cannot buy every record, choices must be made, of course. But that has always been there. If I put out twenty less albums a year would that make a difference globally? The thing these days is to select and not to find out, as in the old days. You have to select the information, as opposite to finding the information. Promotion and communication are more important than the object itself these days. Look at the “best of the year” lists and the way everybody is selecting the same records. How is that possible if there’s tons of great records every year? 


Let’s focus on the latest batch of releases. How did they come to be, what were your reactions listening to the music? Are other people involved in the decision? In what conditions do you listen to the music for release consideration?

 I listen to the music through the speakers mostly. I can’t stand headphones for long, I get really tired even if mine are open ones. For some of the records there’s a continuum like for instance Friends and Neighbours, Jonas Cambien, Cortex, TGB, Liba Villavecchia or Miha Gantar. But that’s not all, I like to surprise and take things out of the comfort zone, like with “Futuro Ancestrale” by Giuseppe Doronzo, a great and unexpected record, or Jim Baker/Steve Hunt/Jakob Heinemann’s “Horizon Scanners”.

I decide on my own what is coming out.


What about pianist Miha Gantar you just released two box sets by in the space of a year? Major labels don’t take such risks.

Miha has support to do so and I won’t be the one to tell him to slow down. I don’t like to slow down so much myself and what would be the point? Those box sets were made to be like that, a showcase of Miha’s vision, work and career. Would it be better to have a single CD instead of five? I don’t think there’s any filler in those box sets. The success of a record cannot be judged by the number of copies sold, especially these days; and records still need to be done. A record is a landmark, a very special point in musicians’ and composers’ careers. Records are more important than live music, they stand still. How many people alive today saw Charlie Parker playing? Yet there are a good number of his records that we can still listen to and be delighted. Live music is in the moment and it’s incredible but a record stays forever. 


You have this huge legacy of music. Music gets forgotten then rediscovered years or decades later. So, you have this huge catalogue, ripe for discovery by future listeners, like it happened with other labels since the beginning of recorded jazz – and most labels didn’t last twenty years. Is that an idea you like?

I don’t look back so much and once the job is done, once a record is released, it’s up to others to judge it or feel the curiosity to listen to it. My job is done, and the record is no longer mine or even the musicians’ to own. The music is there. I know that I don’t make things easy for critics and journalists, I don’t impose a narrative or do the best commercial work so the process you mention will probably take longer and will only be clear when Clean Feed no longer exists. That’s the way things work. I like the idea, but I’m not obsessed with it nor do I work for it. I just release music that I love and feel that’s necessary to come out in the world. 


In the past you organized Clean Feed festivals abroad. How about doing that again? Strasbourg’s Jazzdor now brings their program to Berlin and Dresden in Germany. They also have a label and another associated label in Hungary, around the same roster of artists. How do you see the articulation between live and recorded music?

That would be wonderful, but funds are needed and that’s not easy in a country like Portugal where the cultural budget is 0,273% of the total budget. To make Clean Feed festivals and not be able to pay the bands a fair fee is not something I would want to do. A label should work for the musicians and not the opposite.

Is jazz boring? [as one of the label’s mottos stated]

It depends on what you call jazz. As I see it, jazz is a beautiful human artform that is always evolving and can incorporate many different visions as long as it takes risks and has something to say to the contemporary world we live in. If it’s just about comfort and a somewhat romantic notion it definitely feels boring to me. 


What are your favorite 5 record covers on the label?

  • Chris Lightcap's Bigmouth “Deluxe”
  • Angles 9 “Injuries”
  • Jonas Cambien Trio “We must mustn't we”
  • Eve Risser “Après un Rêve”
  • Tim Berne “Insomnia”


Your favorite 5 albums on Clean Feed?

The next 5 that are coming out.

Production time at the Clean Feed offices. Photo by Petra Cvelbar.

Which labels were you most inspired by?

Nonesuch Records, Hat Hut, ECM , Intakt, CIMP, FMP.


Which album is Clean Feed's best seller?

Bernardo Sassetti Trio “Nocturno”.


Which album do you feel should have been noticed more?

Fight the Big Bull “All is Gladness in the Kingdom”.


Which album was the most joyous to produce, release and promote?

Bernardo Sassetti Trio "Nocturno". It was recorded at Maria João Pires’ place, Quinta de Belgais, where we stayed for a week recording.


Which album was the most difficult to produce?

Hearth “Melt” and some of the ones that didn't have a leader.


What is the best part of producing albums?

Holding the finished product! 




www.cleanfeed-records.com

The 2nd edition of Causa – Efeito festival takes place May 23-25, 2024, Campus de Campolide, Lisbon.