like rain whispers mist review on Clean Feed by Michael McCaw

Label of the Year

If you look in the jazz magazines, the label contests are pretty much a three horse race between Blue Note, Verve, and ECM. But dig deeper into the great music being released nowadays and you’ll find there are a lot of creative labels out there releasing great music.

From the more traditional sounding SteepleChase, Criss-Cross Jazz or even Palmetto Records, the distribution houses like Sunnyside, to the more avant and niche labels like CIMP, Pi Recordings or Rogue Art – never mind the ever present Tzadik label and the hundreds of other independents. Nonetheless, the most consistently invigorating label this year for my ears has easily been Portugal’s Clean Feed Records.

“Made in Lisbon,” Clean Feed was formed in 2001 and has quickly begun to release a steady stream of high quality jazz running the gamut from the more straight ahead to the freer sounds so many enjoy (but I yet to hear sometimes, sorry Evan Parker still doesn’t work for me really). From both local and international renowned artists including Ken Vandermark, Dennis González, Bernardo Sassetti, Joe Morris, Mark O’Leary, João Paulo and now Tony Malaby – everything is worth hearing, and often worth repeated listens. And how many labels openly offer that they “let the musicians decide what they want to do and having [their] ears as open as possible.”
No disrespect to Blue Note, which has ended up having a decent year mainly centered around live releases, but it is hard to argue that any label has had as many artistic high notes as Clean Feed this year. Beneath the music player is an informal email interview comprised of some questions I had for Pedro Costa of Clean Feed. The fist thing you’ll notice about his responses is that this is a music business based around the music, which ultimately comes across in the sounds. Just like the label name intends…

Below, you can hear some of the tunes from many of their 2007 releases by clicking play or just a particular tune below by double clicking on a song title. The tunes are what were hitting me today as I shuffled about the catalog, but damn if a lot of it doesn’t refute what some I know consider to be primarily a free jazz label.

Clean Feed, unlike many, European labels has worked hard to make finding their music easy including being apart of eMusic, AudioLunchbox and Amazon’s MP3 download launch. They also have a slew of MP3s available at Last FM that you can download and listen to at your leisure. Support these artists and labels by purchasing the music and seeing the artists in concert!

What was the impetus for the formation of Clean Feed?

I was always a record freak so to me starting a label was like a mission even before I started listening to Jazz. I worked in record stores for 15 years and too see that great musicians were not being taken care of by important Jazz labels gave me the strength to start this.

How did it come together?

That’s a long story but it started with me and my two brothers in 2001. We started the previous year when I and my older brother, Carlos, started producing some music events for others. We knew we had to start our own company and to have a label was a dream that could come true as an extension. So we had the Implicate Order (Steve Swell, Ken Filiano and Lou Grassi) touring in Portugal and also recorded them for the first Clean Feed record. Those were both the first concert the company organized and the first record we did. I’m very happy that we started with these people that are still our greatest friends.

So, we started as concert promoters and jazz label but also a distributor. We kept dreaming of a Jazz store that we now have. Now the dream is to have a Jazz club in Lisbon. Maybe it won’t take too long. That will really close the circle.

Now the company is me, my older brother Carlos, Ilídio and Hernani. Working with us we have Madalena (a true angel) and Jorge (a guy that can do everything and he’s willing to).

Why call the label Clean Feed?

This was saxophonist Rodrigo Amado’s idea. He joined the force briefly after the company started and that was the name he had for his first record. Knowing him as I do, I think this name was in his head for a long time. It’s a technical video term to define feeding a pure signal.
That’s the meaning of all this, let the musicians decide what they want to do and having our ears as open as possible.

Is there a label creed of some sort?

Not really we had such a belief before we started but now I can see one, to release organic improvised music that should also be called Jazz. At least I think this is the spirit of Jazz, freedom, openness, improvisation.

How do you guys operate in recruiting talent / releases? Off the cuff examples being Fight the Big Bull, Júlio Resende, Mark O’Leary, Vandermark etc…

Well, I try just to listen to the music whether it comes from known musicians or unknown. I have a special delight in releasing great young musicians with a concept which is something the big labels like Blue Note did once a long time ago. It’s a kind of obligation that we feel, to expose the talents of our time. Others do the opposite and that’s fine too. It’s funny that you mention Fight the Bull, a truly great project that I was listening again this morning on my way to work. Great music, great spirit.

Also it seems Dennis Gonzalez has found a real home with you guys, care to elaborate…

I was a Dennis fan for a long time. I always loved his music- always mysterious, organic but very sophisticated.

When we met, it was like two bothers separated at birth. He’s like a twin to me. A beautiful person with a beautiful family that we try to keep with us the most we can. When he plays a note in his trumpet, it is like a sun ray, sometimes only his presence is such a thing. Very powerful yet very delicate human being.

Global outlook? It’s obvious you see the internet as your primary means of distribution especially in making the music available through associations with Audio Lunchbox, eMuisc, etc…

When we first started out, I felt sorry that Clean Feed wasn’t in New York or Chicago, close to a strong scene. But today I see it as a blessing to be away from everything else that is killing the music, be away from strange politics and just hear the music, this is very clear to me. Besides, from here I can see a lot of things that most of the people that live in New York, Chicago, Paris or London where there’s strong Jazz scenes can’t see, the entire world.

The internet just makes everything close, as close as you want; it’s just a matter of keeping contact going. I have a great relationship with musicians I never met or hardly met. Of course I have the vibe through the music and that says a lot of the people that plays it. It’s incredible how the music can really speak and tells what’s in people’s minds. That’s to me the strongest quality of Jazz, revelation.

Personal favorites, releases or artists?

I can say that from the catalogue you can see how much we care for people like Dennis, Gerry Hemingway, Scott Fields, Joe Morris, Will Holshouser, Bernardo Sassetti, Ken Filiano, and Lou Grassi. All great people that play great music.

What are your plans for the future, outlook, etc…

The plans are to keep releasing unknown great musicians, keep working with the ones we care and try to have others join the rooster like Ellery Eskelin, Louis Sclavis, Craig Taborn, Alex Schlippenbach, Joachim Kühn, and many others from both sides of the Atlantic.

By the way, a good way to gauge what releases might hit your ear best is to visit the Clean Feed Records Blog (with one of the best headers I have seen) which collects all the press relating to their releases as well as other randomness.

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