Until an investigation is made into the remarkable success of the Lisbon-based Clean Feed Records, we will simply have to savor each and every release. Maybe it really isn't important how the label do it, but with each new disc, the listener is introduced to important new artists or asked to reconsider celebrated stars of jazz music. With 30 or more releases since the mid 2000s, the Clean Feed catalog has become quite impressive and a great source of revival for jazz, both European and American. Here is a look at some recent output.
Dennis Gonzalez / Joao Paulo Scapegrace Clean Feed
The sweetest, most beautiful music was made in Lisbon in June 2007 when Dallas trumpeter Dennis Gonzalez visited Portuguese pianist Joao Paulo Esteves da Silva. Presumably this encounter was arranged by the label. Gonzalez, maybe the fulfillment of multi-instrumentalist Don Cherry's vision of world music and jazz, has lurked in the shadows recording for the Swedish label Silkheart and with the under-appreciated saxophonist Charles Brackeen. He was coaxed out of retirement and has recorded several stunning discs for Clean Feed. Paulo might be familiar to Americans from his work with saxophonist Peter Epstein.
Together, these two improvisers engage in a seamless manner, delivering with such ease the outing could be mistaken for a simple recital. Working with compositions written by both artists, the music is given leeway once released by breath or touch to resonate and dissolve into your dreams.
One of the more electrifying bands recording today, Lucky 7s honor the history of New Orleans musicians traveling up the Mississippi to Chicago. Born out of the tragedy that was (still is) hurricane Katrina, co- leaders Jeff Albert (New Orleans) and Jeb Bishop (Chicago) built this unit in 2006. And just as the course of great Mississippi never travels into Chicago and the Chicago river was engineered to flow backwards, this certainly is not a traditional brass band.
The sound of New Orleans is marinated with what can be identified as the "new" Chicago sound devised by Bishop with reed players Ken Vandermark and Dave Rempis, et. al. The flavor here is a balanced mix of composed and tightly arranged tracks and some stellar soloing. The lineup of Jeb Bishop and Jeff Albert on trombones, supported by Josh Berman's cornet, Keefe Jackson's tenor saxophone, bassist Matthew Golombisky, drummer Quin Kirchner and the very in demand sound of vibraphonist Jason Adasiewicz.
The music meanders through the solid swing of "Sunny's Bounce," the tentative cartoon walk of "Cultural Baggage" that takes a tortuous rhythmic path, the outward shred of "The Dan Hang" with Bishop picking up his electric guitar, and the dancing pulse of "Jaki's Waltz." This pseudo-brass band displays the ability to traverse multiple styles, emotions, and volumes. All supremely entertaining.
Percussionist Jeff Arnal, a student of the great Milford Graves, heads up the quartet Transit on its second release for Clean Feed. Together with saxophonist Seth Misterka (Anthony Braxton's GTM), trumpeter Nate Wooley, an improviser in the tradition of Jack Wright, and ubiquitous bassist Reuben Radding, the band were first heard on their self titled 2005 release.
The music is quite difficult to compartmentalize as its quicksilver nature defies definition. All players here are masters od micro-tonal playing, eschewing a straightforward pulse for some heady music making. That's not to say there aren't moments here, as on "Speaking In Tongues," that Arnal and Radding don't lay down a substantial groove. But the center of this project means to zag when you expect a zig. The persistent composure of this recording is defined by its stoicism and self-restraint. Listeners will be required to listen.
Avram Fefer Trio
The fire ignited by saxophonist Avram Fefer is fresh, yet it sounds as eternal as all things avant in jazz. When he places two horns in his mouth on "Shepp In Wolves' Clothing" there are resonances of Roland Kirk, but yet the music is of this 21st century. Steeped in the tradition of saxophonists John Coltrane, Albert Ayler and Eric Dolphy, Fefer displays a conscious reverence to these players while forging his own brand.
Fefer's trio includes Branford Marsalis' bassist Eric Revis and Chicago Underground drummer Chad Taylor. With a dedication to assertive music making, Fefer's trio is poised to take on all obstacles and traffic. Even when they are maneuvering a ballad like "Feb. 13th" they do so with a confident swagger. This is exciting and very satisfying music making.
This is a fine example of what a label like Clean Feed is all about. Their status as arbiter of the 21st century's new thing can draw wanted attention to bands such as Herculaneum. This Chicago outfit lead by composer/drummer Dylan Ryan draws its inspiration from Gil Evans, Duke Ellington, Frank Zappa, Captain Beefheart, Charles Mingus and contemporary classical music. Perhaps they are leaders of the next wave of Chicago music. As the AACM gave birth to Vandermark's movement, a new generation begins flexing its muscles.
The descriptor of "intelligent jazz" might be off-putting, but it embraces this music. Music for trio through septet is heard. The varying contexts and instrumentations suggest there are many things afoot here. The horizon can be viewed from differing angles and advancing on this music yields differing perspectives.
Tracks and Personnel
Tracks: First Song; Anthem For The Moment; Tolleymore; Scapegrace; Duas Dancas Arcaicas; Hymn For Later; Seixal Township; Broken Bop; Ultima Cancao.
Personnel: Dennis Gonzalez: cornet, trumpet; Joao Paulo: piano.
Tracks: #6; Pluto Junkyard; Ash; Cultural Baggage; Future Dog (For Jaki); Jaki's Walk; Afterwards; The Dan Hang; Sunny's Bounce.
Personnel: Jason Adasiewicz: vibraphone; Jeb Bishop: trombone, guitar ; Jeff Albert: trombone, bass trombone; Josh Berman cornet; Keefe Jackson: tenor saxophone; Matthew Golombisky: bass; Quin Kirchner: drums.
Tracks: Strata; Walking On Fire; The Science Of Breath; Flip; Rapid Eye Movement; Z Train; Meeting Ground; Time Isn't What You Think; Speaking In Tongues; Myrtle Avenue Revival.
Personnel: Jeff Arnal: percussion; Nate Wooley: trumpet; Reuben Radding: bass; Seth Misterka: alto saxophone.
Tracks: Testament; Shepp In Wolves' Clothing; Ritual; Feb. 13th; Blinky Palermo; Club Foot; Ripple; Outspoken; When The Spirit Moves You.
Personnel: Avram Fefer: alto saxophone, tenor saxophone, soprano saxophone, bass clarinet; Chad Taylor: drums; Eric Revis: bass.
Tracks: The Sparrow; Prosecco/MCV; Italian Ice; Golden Monarch; Eyeball; Lavender Panther; Egyptian Femme; Red Dawn; Mahogany.
Personnel: David McDonnell: alto saxophone, clarinet; Dylan Ryandrums, vibraphone; Greg Danek: bass; John Beard: guitar; Nate Lepine: flute; Nick Broste: trombone; Partick Newbery: trumpet, flugelhorn.