In times of fiscal duress, the arts can flourish regardless. President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Federal Art Project even fueled creativity during the depression.
Still, Pedro Costa’s Lisbon-based Clean Feed label is something else entirely. Last year with the globe in the bowels of recession, Costa released 36 new Cds of challenging music and intends to up that tally to 45 in 2010. No instance of quantity over quality, each Clean Feed CD is gorgeously packaged and features choice recordings by new vanguardists from both sides of the Atlantic.
For the past five years, Costa has hosted label festivals in New York. In consultation with Umbrella/Pitchfork promoter Mike Reed, this year Costa set sights on Chicago, since a growing slice of his roster, including Herculaneum, Charles Rumback, Ken Vandermark and Jason Stein, emanate from the Windy City.
Over two days at Chicago’s Cultural Center, Hideout and Heaven Gallery, Clean Feed featured the New York trio of reedist Ingrid Laubrock, pianist Kris Davis and vaunted drummer Tyshawn Sorey, Memorize the Sky (reedist Matt Bauder, drummer/vibist Aaron Siegel, bassist Zach Wallace), Chicago’s Keefe Jackson and Lisbon’s RED Trio.
Jackson’s trio, in which bassist Jason Roebke is integral, concluded its set in the Cultural Center’s Preston Bradley Hall with “Maker”, the opener from the recording dubbed Seeing You See on the label. Charles Mingus-like in ominous passages. “Maker” stunningly balances Jackson’s chiseled tenor tone and Jeb Bishop’s livewire trombone. Also salient was Jackson’s increasing use of the eerily profound contrabass clarinet. The ecletic crowd at the Cultural Center included seniors, who were a little taken aback during the following set, when Sorey walloped his side drum after protracted minimalist. Laubrock held much in reserve, altough the slow builds, effectiveon the fine Clean Feed document Paradoxical Frog, dragged a little live.
A superbly impromptu set where Bishop and bassist Josh Abrams met Portuguese guitarrist Luis Lopes at the Hideout proceeded an impressive showing from local sextet Herculaneum. Driven by whip-crack drummer Dylan Ryan and exploratory alto saxophonist Dave McDonnel, Herculaneumfeatured fresh, though-composed structures, in the case of “Eyeball# recalling Trevor Watts’ Moiré Music, which makes abundant, intelligent use of horn-heavy frontline.
Bass clarinetist Jason Stein’s trio Locksmith Isidore works around drummer Mike Pride living in New York, so when they get together they don’t spare the horses. The audience was regrettably thin for the final sets at the Heaven Gallery but the music writ large. “RED Trio” hunkered down as soon as Rodrigo Pinheiro’s fingers hit the piano. Hernani Faustino’s hydraulic bass in close cahoots with gabriel Ferrandini’s nervously acute percussion made this dark-hued improv of a high order. Stein, Roebke and Pride fed off the chamber-like intensity of the sparsely intimate space with a brilliantly tight set.