Clean Feed Records, Portugal's most adventurous jazz label, has emerged as one of the leading lights of the independent music scene. Founded in 1999 by Pedro Costa, the label has since grown to include a veritable who's who of contemporary talent, both in the US and abroad.
Boasting a roster of international improvisers, Clean Feed has released albums ranging from under-sung, local Portuguese artists to acknowledged avant-garde heavyweights of the American and international jazz scenes. From Alfonso Pais to Charles Gayle, the label maintains only one standard: meticulous consistency of quality.
These half dozen albums represent just such a diverse array of music, with the same abiding feature, quality through and through.
Drummer Whit Dickey typically composes at the piano, as do many drummers. For Sacred Ground, he decided to write from voice only, in order to accentuate the natural harmonies and melodies that are most familiar. Considering these pieces to be "distillations of melodic improvisation," Dickey has come up with an infectious set of tunes for his ensemble to expand upon.
Dickey is joined by his usual collaborators, some of today's finest improvisers. Ably abetted by Joe Morris, here playing upright bass in lieu of guitar, Morris has proven himself not only an adequate bassist, but a peer capable of easily navigating the intricate rhythmic structures Dickey has conceived. Dickey delivers odd metered, splintered polyrhythms from his trap set, while Morris interlocks with his own abstruse, fractured bass lines. Rob Brown and Roy Campbell front the ensemble on alto sax and trumpet respectively. Equally known for their singing tones and adventurous perspectives, these two develop Dickey's embryonic, angular contours, sculpting them into discursive narratives.
Dickey leaves plenty of room for both individual solos and collective expression in these threadbare selections. The title track is the album's conceptual climax, a roiling assault of tribal rhythms and interweaving horns, soaring and diving around the beat, Brown's irascible alto declarations embroiled with Campbell's brassy trumpet refrains.
The remainder of the album is nearly as relentless, a driving, propulsive affair full of muscular energy and rapt dialogue. Only the closing number, "Dream Of Caravans" provides any respite in the quartet's unwavering assault, with Dickey's tenacious, almost ritualistic drum solo closing the album.
Tracks: Vortex; Soldier Of Uncertainty; Sacred Ground; Vital Transmission; Dream Of Caravans.
Personnel: Whit Dickey: drums; Rob Brown: alto saxophone; Roy Campbell Jr.: trumpet; Joe Morris: double bass.
We Are Not Obstinate Islands
Alto saxophonist Rob Brown, trombonist Steve Swell and drummer Harris Eisenstadt are The Diplomats. Recorded live at The Bop Shop in Rochester, New York, We Are Not Obstinate Islands is a free jazz album devoid of unnecessary histrionics. Although the stripped down immediacy of the 1960's New Thing is apparent, The Diplomats take on their conception of freedom with an almost casual air.
The trio works their way gradually through skeletal structures and tenuous themes. Rumbustious energy is traded for subtle interaction and lyrical abstraction. Eisenstadt is a tasteful and nuanced percussionist, never overplaying, generating just enough heat to provide his cohorts with the right amount of fuel. Brown's trenchant lyrical side is given free rein on a set of long winded, unadorned themes. Swell is blustery and genteel, as the mood suits. Serpentine melodies and cathartic exhortations mingle with conversational exchanges between the horns.
Without a harmonic instrument to anchor the trio, nor even a bassist to manage the time, the trio takes it upon themselves to maintain pulse, harmony and dynamics. Working with available open space, rather than attempting to continuously fill it, the group maintains balance, uncluttered by excess. We Are Not Obstinate Islands is a text book example of unconventional small group improvisation at its most magnanimous.
Tracks: Down To The Roots; Past The Roots; The Unsure Of Our Times; The Unsure Of Our Answers; Buoyed In Great Days.
Personnel: Rob Brown: alto saxophone; Steve Swell: trombone; Harris Eisenstadt: drums.
Ken Filiano and Steve Adams
The Other Side Of This
The Other Side Of This is an intimate document between one of Brooklyn's most in-demand bassists and one of the ROVA saxophone quartet's most enterprising soloists. Saxophonist Steve Adams and erstwhile bassist Ken Filiano pair up for a series of duets that vary in approach from subtle elegance to exuberant excess. Drawing forth as much sound as possible from two instruments, these professionals know a thing or two about the art of the duo. Adams and Filiano have recorded together before as a duo, on 1991's In Outside and earlier on 1986's Hiding Out, both on the New Winds label.
This collaboration is similar to past efforts in that the pair uses the studio as a third member of the group, adding subtle electronic overdubbing and multi-tracking when needed. The program starts with the blast of "Exoid," a tenor and bass melt-down that quickly dissipates into a series of lyrical flute meditations.
Peaking suddenly with the sopranino cry that introduces "Yowns," Filiano bows rich chords under Adams' caterwauling sax. The majority of the program is one of reflective meditation, somber at times, opulent at others. Maintaining a long running tradition, Filiano and Adams have produced another album demonstrating their symbiotic relationship, rich with syncretic interplay.
Tracks: Exoid; Kleesh; Tinver; Rumon; Senfui; Yowns; Mauhn; Ingope; Yataph; Droove; Larmin; Ossue.
Personnel: Ken Filiano: double bass, fx; Steve Adams: sopranino, alto and tenor saxophone, flute and bass flute.
Dennis González Boston Project
No Photograph Available
No Photograph Available is a testament to the power of the internet. Having spent the previous decade in a state of partial retirement, trumpeter and composer Dennis González found himself once again on tour. With only a month to spare before a scheduled show at New York's Tonic, González made contact through a chat room with Boston-based bassist Nate McBride. Numerous emails and postings later, González had an impromptu gig with McBride, Joe Morris on second contrabass, 19 year old drummer Croix Galipault (one of Morris' young student prodigies), and multi-instrumentalist Charlie Kohlhase at the Artists-At-Large Gallery in Hyde Park, Massachusetts.
González recorded the concert, and despite some technical difficulties, the end result is a sublime trip through his discography, with a small selection of pieces representing his oeuvre. Drawing from some of González's most resilient tunes, this ad-hoc quintet delivers elegant readings of these often joyous pieces.
Kohlhase makes an apposite foil for González, their horns weaving together with the sort of harmolodic richness that reveals a deep, lyrical connection. Both are veteran stylists who bring a gorgeous maturity to even the most fervent of passages. There are moments of regal spirituality in their buoyant, synchronous harmonies.
Galipault is a marvel, holding forth with knowledgeable restraint and unbridled frenzy on the skins. His delivery is tight and in the pocket, subtle, yet razor sharp. McBride and Morris skillfully avoid each other's path, enhancing, rather than muddying the bottom end. Each favors a separate register or playing technique, so that one will often bow arco while the other plucks pizzicato, conciliatory in their rapport.
Peppered with sprightly bop rhythms and dense, but controlled group interplay, this majestic set is given to numerous solo cadenzas and intimate moments, establishing a reflective, almost spiritual quality to the proceedings.
Tracks: Primate; Old Time Revival Part I; The Matter At Hand; Hymn For Julius Hemphill; Constrictor; Old Time Revival Part II.
Personnel: Dennis González: C trumpet, Bb trumpet; Charles Kohlhase: alto, tenor and baritone saxophone; Nate McBride: double bass; Joe Morris: double bass; Croix Galipault: drums.
Snug As A Gun
The IMI Kollektief demonstrates the global power of improvised music's appeal, specifically that strain lovingly referred to as jazz. Supported by an abiding preference for boisterous free-bop, the IMI Kollektief traffics in a menagerie of sonic pleasures. Brazilian tenor saxophonist Alipio Carvalho Neto, French trumpet player Jean-Marc Charmier, Belgian vibraphonist Elsa Vandeweyer and the Portuguese rhythm section of bassist João Hasselberg and drummer Rui Gonçalves deliver a feisty program of infectious melodies infused with pneumatic swing.
Taken from a line by Seamus Heaney, Snug As A Gun is a thrill ride through histories both real and imagined. The sprightly circus-theme bounce of "Proof Boum Boum" and the title track invoke the sort of manic, noir inflected chase music so fondly adapted from Raymond Scott by such visionaries as Phillip Johnston and John Zorn for their genre-pillaging works. But this ensemble doesn't rely on cut and paste tricks for shock value, their's is a wholly organic approach. Unafraid of tradition, the ensemble mines rich territory with Vandeweyer's vibes evoking the experimental zeal of the more adventurous 1960's Prestige and Blue Note sessions.
The ostensible leader of the ensemble, Neto's Brazilian heritage materializes on occasion, such as on the driving "Thierry na Caatinga." Many of the tunes' quirky angularities and oddball meters invoke the influence of Steve Lacy. Oscillating between deconstructed funk rhythms, sprightly group interplay and energetic swing, "The Hole in My Sole" blends divergent genres. With whip smart horn charts, propulsive rhythms and energy to spare, the IMI Kollektief premiers with a bang.
Tracks: Proof Boum Boum; Frevo Sonoris Causa; Snug As A Gun; Fucked Up; Hitching; Manhanhão; The Hole In My Sole; Thierry Na Caatinga; ZEDAVIS; Pão de Deus.
Personnel: Jean-Marc Charmier: trumpet, flugelhorn; Alipio C. Neto: tenor saxophone; Els Vandeweyer: vibraphone; João Hasselberg: double bass; Rui Gonçalves: drums; Paulo Matricó: zabumba and voice (8).
Adam Lane's Full Throttle Orchestra
New Magical Kingdom
Costly and logistically difficult to maintain, large ensembles are often relegated to special repertory projects and one-off recording sessions. Undeterred, this is Adam Lane's second outing with the Full Throttle Orchestra and the ingenious bassist's sixth release as a leader. Although a number of these compositions have appeared on previous recordings, here they are performed by his large ensemble for the first time.
Inspired by a multiplicity of styles and genres, Lane absorbs and includes all available influences in his ever expanding music. He embraces diversity, but not at the cost of his unique voice.
Lane's multifarious writing is dynamically episodic and expertly arranged. His dedication to the arranger's craft is exemplified by the subtle references to the classic large groups of Charles Mingus and David Murray's octet. Rich harmonic beauty, reminiscent of Duke Ellington, sits in un-ironic juxtaposition with the sort of electrified exuberance inspired by Keith Tippett's proto-fusion ensembles from the early 1970s.
Highlights abound on this eclectic session. "In The Center Of The Earth, Looking For Mike," is the most Mingus-like. Full of intense shifts in texture and rhythm, it echoes the master's knack for melody, but never derivatively. Building tension, "Without Being" showcases John Finkbeiner's electric guitar, burning in the distance, while the four horn front line churns out anthemic riffs. "Avenue X," is a challenging free-bop exercise in metric modulation, with a riotous baritone solo from Lynn Johnston. The lush balladry of "Sienna" is offset by the spasmodic, post-Zappa dynamics of "Objects." "Serenity" gives Finkbeiner's heavily distorted guitar free reign to drench the unruly collective in waves of feedback. "The Schnube" concludes with a boisterous, deconstructed calypso.
Lane's vision for large ensemble music is a perfect balance between heady charts and freewheeling improvisation. One of the leading lights of today's creative music scene, Adam Lane's New Magical Kingdom is a record not to be missed.
Tracks: In The Center Of the Earth, Looking For Mike; Nutria One; Without Being; Avenue X; Sienna; Objects; The Genius of El Segundo; Serenity; The Schnube.
Personnel: Adam Lane: bass; Aaron Bennett: tenor saxophone, soprano saxophone; Jeff Chan: tenor saxophone (3,5,6,8,9); Lynn Johnston: baritone saxophone (2,4,7); Darren Johnston: trumpet; John Finkbeiner: electric guitar; Vijay Anderson: drums.