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Special Clean Feed Records Edition

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For this Six Picks special, we're taking a closer look at selection of the fine recordings released by the Lisbon, Portugal-based Clean Feed label in 2023. There are many idioms in improvised music and the avant-garde today still leaves plenty of room for new discoveries, which is clearly in evidence here,

Vine Leaf
Tales Of Senses
Clean Feed
2023

Try listening to the first couple of bars of "Tale One," the almost half an hour long opening cut of Tales Of Senses, without being reminded of Paul Motian's influential trio with Joe Lovano and Bill Frisell. It's near impossible. On drums, João Valinho assumes a similar flowing style in the vein of Motian, with cymbals and toms crashing in accordance to the intensity of the interplay, as it swells and ebbs. Luís Lopes's guitar tone is certainly a bit drier than Frisell's, his lines less chordal, but, like Frisell, he pulls complementing melodic ideas out of thin air, constructing determined improvised counterpoint in the moment. On alto saxophone Bruno Parrinha will blow soft and wispy lines, as Lovano does on tenor, then in the next moment blow up in a fit of horn-scales and staccato squeals, responding to his accompanists like-minded instrumental rage.

Of course there are also plenty of differences between the two trios. Motian's signature compositional shapes are missing, for one. The circular melodies, minimalist but catchy and limited to a 2-bar motif, often constituting the entire foundation of a tune. In Vine Leaf's music—the name of the trio derives from the English translation of Bruno Parrinha's name—extensive forms, even freer of fixed melodic shapes, dominate. The avant-gardist spirit permeates the music heavily, revealed in dense explosions of frantic interplay, sometimes even in what sounds like a loss of control. But even then the musicians' pulse keeps it together; ideas, like shards of a fallen glass, shattered, yet flowing with natural symmetry. "Tale Two" is an especially unique display, as Lopes turns is guitar-fuzz/distortion-pedal to the max, with a gate cutting off the sustain, resulting in a harsh industrial sound. Even in the '80s Frisell rarely went this hard. Repeated spins reveal competent playing and exciting trio conversations on this accomplished recording.

Evelyn Davis Fred Frith Phillip Greenlief
Lantskap Logic: Hidden Danger Lets Me In
Clean Feed
2023

Organist Evelyn Davis, guitarist Fred Frith and saxophonist Phillip Greenlief's second drone trio offering, this time as Lantskap Logic, is at least as exhilarating as the group's debut from 2018. On Hidden Danger Lets Me In, spheric organ registers and experimental guitar tones once again melt together, blending with the patient sustain and husky timbres of saxophone and clarinet. The lower pitches of the organ are used to interrupt the sonic fusion of the instruments, interlacing tapestries of cohesion and near-homophony with playful melodic patterns. The guitar responds with crashing overdrive, interrupting meditative states of mystifying interplay—often based around the tension of close, dissonant intervallic relations—with loud, abrupt statements.

The particular organ used for both Lantskap Logic recordings can be found at Mills Chapel in Oakland California, at the college where Frith had taught until 2018, where Davis completed her graduate studies in 2013 and whose esteemed music department ceased to exist in 2022, due to the college being sold off. The latter is reason why the trio decided to record at the Chapel once more in May 2022, as future access to the organ was about to become uncertain and the particular organ is, after all, intrinsic to the trio's DNA.

The music is haunting, at times breathtaking. György Ligeti, Olivier Messiaen, even Karlheinz Stockhausen and other pioneers of last century's music come to mind as Davis, Frith and Greenlief push to the boundaries of their imagination, letting the acoustics of the chapel move through their bodies and instruments with natural purpose. Ligeti, because of his intense dealing with harmonics, Messiaen both due to his deep interest in and musical application of birdsong as well as his reluctance towards terms like "tonal," "modal" or "serial," but preferring to view music as with and without color. And Stockhausen, because even ever since he was part of Henry Cow in the late '60s, Frith's experimental guitarist energy has been driven by the likes of Stockhausen, who investigated electronic music without limits. The closing section of the seamlessly merging "River Rises And Falls" and "Behind The Lines," is a particularly stirring display of most sensitive musicianship, leading from vibrating pitch-play and exploration of common textures between the instruments, to a rare romantic, almost traditionally harmonic coda, with guitar arpeggios, soft organ patterns to a beautiful lower-range drone accompanied by clacking saxophone key pearls and sustained frequency-flights.

HIIT
For Beauty Is Nothing But The Beginning Of Terror
Clean Feed
2023

The Italian-Portuguese cooperation between pianist Simone Quatrana, Andrea Grossi on double bass and drummer Pedro Melo Alves explores the improvised nature of trio interplay freely, relying, if anything, on the pureness of energy, rather than any preconceived notions. High-powered workouts like "Ecotone"—laced with frantically chromatic key-washes and lightening-like crashing cymbals—are juxtaposed with ambient explorations of touch that move the emphasis on timbre and shade, with cymbal-scratches matching double bass arco-swells, accompanied by minimal dissonant piano notes.

This pattern continues throughout For Beauty Is Nothing But The Beginning Of Terror, with the avant-garde firmly scanning both extremes: the uneasily quiet, and the aggressively disorganized. The two poles require one another, each temperament making room for the other to enter the picture, and the trio is well-versed in conjuring exactly what is needed and precisely the right time.

Grdina Maneri Lillinger
Live At The Armoury
Clean Feed
2023

Three major improvisational forces of today's avant-garde landscape come together in this live-session—the trio's very first meeting—from 2018. Mat Maneri has gone almost everywhere with his unparalleled and unique tone on viola, more recently in numerous explorations with pianist Lucian Ban, alongside continued collaborations with Craig Taborn, Ches Smith and many more. Joining him here are Canadian guitarist/oud player Gordon Grdina and German drummer Christian Dillinger—both with equally proficient recorded output in the past five years as Maneri.

The trio kicks things off with a long-form improvisation that clocks in at just under half an hour and explores numerous idioms in that time. It's impressive to hear the three musicians playing so tightly together, so seemingly familiar with each other, considering that this is the document of a first encounter. They don't require much time for searching to find each other but appear in the thick of it from the top. As the music ebbs and flows, new elements are introduced—be it a new guitar effect, a sudden rumble in the drums, a guitar-riff or a lyrical phrase in the viola—and immediately the other players adapt, already fluent in the freshly introduced language without needing it be taught.

Explosive moments include distorted guitar lines, the pace will speed up and Lillinger will use his drum-set as a boxing-bag. But the quiet moments, too are tense, with an always searching Maneri on his continued road of discovery, never serving any other purpose but exploration. After the extensive opener, "Ballistic" feels like an interlude, with Grdina switching to oud for the first time. He stays on the instrument for the concluding "Communion," bringing an oriental element into play that both Lillinger and Maneri are more than equipped to react to and develop.

Liba Villavecchia Trio
Birchwood
Clean Feed
2023

On Liba Villavecchia's second trio date alongside drummer Vasco Tralla and double bassist Àlex Reviriego, the Spanish saxophonist continues the free-ish alto saxophone investigations that made his debut Zaidín a success and presents his fiery tone in energized interplay with a powerful rhythm section. Song-structures, according to Villavecchia's design, contain composed elements for the group to hold on to, disguised in explosive intervals, rhythmical knots or a lyrical melody here and there. Other than that, the pieces organically develop momentum, with each musician pushing the music forward at their own pace and time.

Textural sounds make up the ten-minute long "Blue Quinoa" and serve as recurring elements throughout the record. They are embodied in screeching arco lines on double bass, quietly overblown saxophone cries on the edge of multiphonics and sparse yet often stress-inducing percussive injections. Sometimes the trio sounds like it wants to swing, in an Ornette Coleman or Eric Dolphy kind of way, but they kill that instinct with eerie atmospheres and a darker taste for rhythm.

Susan Alcorn José Lencastre Hernâni Faustino
Manifesto
Clean Feed
2023

There's a darkness, an eeriness too, to the musical elaborations of lap-steel player Susan Alcorn's trio endeavor with saxophonist Jose Lencastre and bassist Hernâni Faustino as well. Opening cut "The Poet" sets the mood with obscurely ascending bass lines, obliquely swelling guitar strings and similarly unsettling saxophone melodies that collectively circle around an element of uncertainty. Alcorn induces more haunting atmospheres via effect pedals that split the overtones and add delay. It's a fitting introduction to a program that orbits the unknown, with three highly curious musicians keenly aware of clichés and exceptionally nimble at evading them.

The pieces tend to start out softly, quietly stacking layers of atmosphere that subsequently erupt in fidgety interplay, each instrument reacting to sudden burst of loud impulse. "Saturnalia" is a prime example of this notion and also captures the trio's return to silence, presenting György Ligeti-like investigations into colliding overtones and carefully improvised superimpositions of chromatic lines. A provocative, sometimes uncomfortable sounding music with many discoveries to be made.

Tracks and Personnel

Tales Of Senses

Tracks: Tale One; Tale Two; Tale Three.

Personnel: Bruno Parrinha: alto saxophone; Luís Lopes: electric guitar; Joöo Valinho: drums.

Lantskap Logic: Hidden Danger Lets Me In

Tracks: Hidden Danger Lets Me In; And Spits Me Out Unseen; Beyond The Surface Smiling; Hold The Heart; The Sail Makers; River Rises And Falls; Behind The Lines.

Personnel: Evelyn Davis: pipe organ; Fred Frith: electric guitar; Phillip Greenlief: Bbclarinet, alto and tenor saxophones.

For Beauty Is Nothing But The Beginning Of Terror

Tracks: Gliss Glass; Ecotone; Concetto Spaziale (Tuo Lucio Fontana); Interludi I; Urbe; Urge (To Roberto Masotti); Intelrude II; The Tartar Steppe (To DIno Buzzati); Clichés; Lament; Interlude III; Taro (To Giorgio Gaslini); Interlude IV; Perline.

Personnel: Simone Quatrana: piano; Andrea Grossi: double bass; Pedro Melo Alves: drums, percussion.

Live At The Armoury

Tracks: Conjure; Ballistic; Communion.

Personnel: Gordon Grdina: guitar, oud; Mat Maneri: viola; Christian Lillinger: drums.

Birchwood

Tracks: Birchwood; Lublin; Blue Quinoa; Anima; Deep Yellow; Senán.

Personnel: Liba Villavecchia: alto saxophone; Vasco Trilla: drums, percussion; Àlex Reviriego: double bass.

Manifesto

Tracks: The Poet; Two Distant Reaities; Sombra; Interalia; Saturnalia; Manhâ Louca.

Personnel: Susan Alcorn: pedal steel guitar, lap steel guitar; José Lencastre: alto and tenor saxophones; Hernâni Faustino: double bass, electric bass..

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