Clean Feed
NYC Fest

Martin Longley pulls together highlights from the recent NYC fest thrown by Lisbon's forward-looking jazz label, Clean Feed.

By Martin Longley

Lisbon's Clean Feed label is a lifeline for jazz players who dangle at the end of the music's exploratory end, its catalogue stuffed with works by just about every key exponent of free improvisation, controlled improvisation or pre-meditated composition that sounds akin to the act of improvisation. Not so many of the label's acts are actually Portuguese, and most hail from the US Of America, continuing the venerable tradition of hardcore Stateside music often being nurtured more in Europe, from blues to abstract crunching. Clean Feed's roster can boast reedsmen Anthony Braxton, Charles Gayle, Steve Lehman and Evan Parker (the latter from the UK), and drummer Paal Nilssen-Love (a Norwegian). A very prolific catalogue has been built up since they began in 2001.

The Cornelia Street Café played host to a four-night mini-fest, featuring three combos on most nights. This Greenwich Village joint has been running for three decades: upstairs a lively three-roomed eatery, downstairs a den of underground iniquity, a long sphincter-walled room, pulsing with amber candlelight, with a tiny stage lurking right down the far end. It's a fine place to listen, acoustically channelling music within an intimately cosseting tunnel. The Café also hosts a regular poetry evening, the Pink Pony, which has been running for six years, and there are regular platforms for blues and singer-songwriter fare...

Plenty of violins on the Friday night. Mat Manieri was bowing and plucking as a third of Russ Lossing's Metal Rat, opening the evening with some exceedingly sparse, highly sensitive combinations. New York pianist Lossing released his Metal Rat disc at the year's beginning. Sean Conly is tonight's bassist. Together they negotiate delicate, maze-like themes, giving each other plenty of pauses, and relishing the sound of their own spaces. It's all highly structured, but doesn't sound overly cerebral. There'll be another Rat band on tomorrow night, the first sub-theme of the festivities...

The next Friday band boasts two violinists, a second sub-theme, with Tanya Kalmanovich and Christian Howes expanding Indian percussionist Ravish Momin's usual Trio Tarana to a four-piece. The other player is oud-man Brandon Terzic. Jazz is not surprisingly taken on a journey through the Middle East, to the Indian subcontinent, with Terzic's strings resonating with a beautifully ringing natural reverb, and Momin playing with a passionate intensity, tenderising his skins with a sequence of constantly surprising rhythmic emphases. He knows how to arrest a booming skin, curtailing his own strikes with a precise stopping technique. Momin will be touring the UK in April 2008...

As a deliberately bombastic contrast, Adam Lane's Full Throttle Orchestra amazingly manage to (mostly) cram onto the stage. Horns are the thing, bolstered only by drums and Lane's own upright bass. Once again, it's another outfit with a driving, enthusiastic leader, whipping the butts of his trumpet, reed and trombone front ranks. On cornet, there's Taylor Ho Bynum, an Anthony Braxton sideman who's rapidly rising as a solo artist. He mutes cornet with his floppy hat, with his compact disc, and even with his conventional mute attachment, but none of these can fully disguise a stiletto-precise attack. Hard-riffing dominates, with the horn guys cuing tight outbreaks of their own, clusters that are lifted up and dropped down beside the soloist-of-the-moment. Urban nocturnal thrills abound, speeding towards neon seediness.

Saturday night commenced with The Gerry Hemingway Quartet, and really couldn't get any better thereafter. This percussionist and drummer (here favouring a conventional kit set-up) made his reputation as a longtime Braxton sideman (him again!), but Hemingway's own work has itself been crucial on the scene. Tonite, he's in powerhouse mode, but this cannot ever mean meathead knuckling, at least not without attendant grace and complexity. Yes, he's piledriving like it's his final appearance on Earth, but can we ever have witnessed such force coupled with this kind of sonic finesse? The quartet cohorts are all equally startling, but even they are casting sidelong glances of amazement at Hemingway's hypercharged display. Ellery Eskelin and Ron Horton navigate their locked lines on tenor saxophone and trumpet, coolly executed in front of Hemingway and bassist Mark Helias, who seem to have decided on adopting the role of an avant-funk engine room, riffing and pumping whilst the elevated horners ascend overhead. Their 2005 Clean Feed disc, The Whimbler, provides the compositional lodestone throughout.

The tough task of following such brilliance falls to Free Range Rat, with their tussling trumpet, saxophone and bass clarinet, backed by bass and drums. On any other night, they would have seemed more impressive, but straight after Hemingway and crew, they were merely engaging, which, under the circumstances, was sort of good enough.
 Photo of Gerry Hemingway
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