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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.


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.


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.
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 last 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.