Label Profile: Clean Feed Records

Peter Margasak

By Peter Margasak

on 01.06.12 in Spotlights

File under: Free jazz, post-bop, improvisation
Flagship acts: Ken Vandermark, Marty Ehrlich, Nate Wooley, Gerry Hemingway, Evan Parker, Paal Nilssen-Love
Based in: Lisbon, Portugal

Like most record labels, the Lisbon jazz imprint Clean Feed Records began modestly when it opened in 2001. The label was, and remains, part of a larger operation founded by Pedro Costa and his brother Carlos, both veterans of Portugal’s record business. They started Trem Azul (Portuguese for Blue Train, like the famous John Coltrane album) as both a record shop and a record distributor, with Clean Feed serving as their international label. From the start, they had grand ambitions. “I felt I could add something to the music scene,” says Pedro Costa. “It had been on my mind for many years, but the conditions were finally ideal in 2001. From the very beginning the idea has been to treat the whole world as just one scene, as this vital music is happening everywhere, usually off of most people’s radar. Maybe we contributed a bit to changing that.”

The label celebrated its 10th anniversary this year, and it’s steadily emerged as one of the most important and creative labels documenting contemporary improvised music, from swing-rooted post-bop to challenging free jazz. During its first year, the label issued only three albums; it doubled its output the following year. These days, Clean Feed turns out 32 high-quality albums annually. A sprinkling of adventurous American musicians share space with little-known but progressive voices from Portugal, and while the label now boasts a remarkable roster from all over the world, it remains committed to local players like Carlos Bica, Rodrigo Amado, Bernardo Sassetti and Luis Lopes.

eMusic’s Peter Margasak caught up with label founder Costa to talk about the label’s history and future.

On the evolution of the label’s sound:

I never wanted to create a sound or an aesthetic. It’s something I never really liked in labels. But when you make your choices, you kind of end up creating a sound, especially when, after 10 years, you have a catalog of 240 titles. I think there’s a certain openness, though, since Clean Feed has released music from many different places. We cover contemporary music from many different scenes, and this is truly what makes Clean Feed unique. We have released music from Stockholm, Oslo, Lisbon, New York, Chicago, San Francisco, Tokyo, Berlin, Brussels, Cologne, London and Paris, among other places. Not many labels do this, and that kind of blurs the idea of a single aesthetic or sound. We cover the wide field between improvised music and this thing called jazz.

On the inspiration of other labels:

I was inspired by the early days of ECM, and labels like Hat Art, Intakt, AUM Fidelity, Antilles, Arista and a few others, but I never wanted to do the same thing. Otherwise, I wouldn’t bother with it. I wanted to have something different and open up things in every aspect, musically and graphically. I was sure then, and I still am, that there was space for Clean Feed.

On the label’s graphic design:

I worked in record stores for many years, and the way you present the music is very important. It was always on my mind to have this distinct graphic look to present our work. I think one shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, but it definitely helps both the music and the label to have this in mind. Clean Feed’s graphic designer Jorge Travassos says, “Each design approach is different. I’m always concerned to fit my work according to each musical proposal or concept, and since the music on Clean Feed has a lot off variety, the design tries to reflect that range. Despite this, we always try to make the musician happy with the final result.”

A few words on some Clean Feed artists…

Ken Vandermark
He’s 100 percent committed to the music as I’ve never experienced before. Ken plays great music and he’s a total human being. He’s been very inspirational to all of us in the music business.

Marty Ehrlich
An amazing musician I’ve been listening to for many years now. His career speaks for itself, and he’s always looking for new adventures in music.

Nate Wooley
Nate represents the new generation of avant-garde musicians — informed and open to new ideas and new ways to develop his art form.

Gerry Hemingway
Like Marty Ehrlich, he’s someone I’ve been listening to for a very long time and it’s truly an honor to have released his music almost since the label started. He was the first widely known musician to believe in the label, and I will always thank him for that.

Evan Parker
Evan is a jazz master, a classic musician, but also a restless soul looking for ways to keep his music fresh. I love him as a musician, one of the main jazz artists for the last 30 years or so, but also as a great human being.

Paal Nilssen-Love
Like Ken Vandermark, Paal Nilssen-Love is a hard-working man. Just go to his website and follow his traveling life — he’s everywhere. I think of him as a seminal player in contemporary jazz and I have no doubts he’s already made his mark on jazz history.

Tim Berne
Tim is another huge figure in contemporary music over the past 30 years. His playing, his compositional skills and his vision about the music are truly authentic and unparalleled. I’ve been his fan for a long, long time and to release some of his music has been a dream come true. Amazing guy, too.