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Thursday, May 16, 2024

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 "", 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.