4. International perspectives
It is not always the center that is the motor of development. In a lot of fields often important impulses come from the periphery. Ultimately, it’s a question of the dialectics of center and periphery. Opening international perspectives and potentials of fully mutual exchange is also a question of pioneering personalities and their efforts.
4.1. International actors
There have always been Portuguese jazz musicians working and residing abroad: vocalist Maria João Grancha worked in Germany with Aki Takase and later from Lisbon with jazz legend Joe Zawinul as well as Belgian musicians, pianist Bernardo Sassetti worked in London in the 90s with Guy Barker, bassist Carlos Barretto worked in Paris, bassist Carlos Bica is a longtime mainstay of the Berlin scene. His international group Azul with drummer Jim Black and guitarist Frank Moebus, deeply Lusitanian tinged, is an indestructible, attractive Dauerbrenner
. From the younger generation trumpeter Susana Santos Silva has become a ubiquitous musician. Originating from Porto and formed by her work in Orquestra Jazz de Matosinhos, she presently works from Stockholm all over Europe, especially in Paris as member
of Orchestre National de Jazz (ONJ)
. She is involved in a broad range of Portuguese groups, Scandinavian groups and international groups. Vocalist Sara Serpa has been part of the New York downtown scene for quite some time with a clear Portuguese signature (among others she is member of the vocal group Mycale with Sofia Rei, Malika Zarra and Ayelet Rose Gottlieb, has a trio with Ingrid Laubrock and Erik Friedlander and in her most recent project works with harpist Zeena Parkins, saxophonist Mark Turner and pianist David Virelles). Drummer João Lobo, the drummer of Italian Giovanni Guidi Trio, is based in Belgium, singer Maria Mendes, bassist Gonçalo Almeida and drummer Marco Santos are based in Rotterdam and guitarists Jose Dias and Andre Fernandes in Manchester and London.
Through the years Portuguese musician participate(d) ‘from home’ in international groups or le(a)d international groups themselves that are present in a variety of European concert circuits. Pianist Mario Laginha is part of a trio with British saxophonist Julian Argüelles and Norwegian percussionist Helge Andreas Norbakken (represented on Edition Record). Julian Argüelles is also connected to already mentioned Portuguese guitarist Andre Fernandes. Pianist João-Paulo Esteves da Silva works in groups with Swiss drummer Samuel Rohrer and US drummer Jarrod Cagwin.
Saxophonist Rodrigo Amado is one of the wider known Portuguese musicians in Europe as well as in the US through his international quartet with Joe McPhee, Kent Kessler and Chris Corsano but also his Portuguese Motion Trio with cellist Miguel Mira, drummer Gabriel Ferrandini and trumpeter Peter Evans. Musicians from the younger generation take an active role, too. Marcelo Dos Reis together with Luis Lopes and other Portuguese musicians built a strong French connection (with a.o. the Ceccaldi brothers, Eve Risser and Julien Desprez) manifested in recordings on the Cipsela label and concert meetings in Coimbra. A heavy weight of the French connection is the unit of Portuguese drummer Mario Costa, French pianist Benoit Delbecq and French guitarist Marc Ducret/French bassist Bruno Chevillon. Trumpeter Luis Vicente takes part in a new formation with saxophonist John Dikeman, the drummers Onno Govaert and Hamid Drake and bassist William Parker. The most sensational, forward rushing and compelling creative force at the moment likely is young drummer Pedro Melo Alves from Porto. Melo Alves, a creative force par excellence, made a fulminant start internationally (12 Points, jazzahead!, Bolzano and Giorgio Gaslini Award) and attracted quite some attention with the Portuguese Rite of the Trio unit and with two larger ensembles, Portuguese Omniae Ensemble, and the international In Igma ensemble with French pianist Eve Risser, US-bassist Mark Dresser, guitarist Abdul Moimême and three vocalists, Audrey Johnson, Beatriz Nunes and Mariana Dionísio. So, these cases show strong units on both sides, the internal Portuguese side as well as on the side of international coalitions.
A special case in this regard is Orquestra Jazz de Matosinhos (OJM)
. Next to prominent Portuguese musicians as Maria João, Carlos Bica, João Paulo Esteves da Silva, the orchestra, directed by Pedro Guedes and Carlos Zevedo, collaborated with a long series of first-rate international musicians such as Maria Schneider, Carla Bley, Lee Konitz, John Hollenbeck, Mark Turner, Steve Swallow, Gary Valente, Dieter Glawischnik, Chris Cheek, Ohad Talmor, Joshua Redman, Kurt Rosenwinkel, Michael Mantler and Andy Sheppard. OJM is also unique as an institution and its way of working. It is as a whole funded permanently by the municipality of Matosinhos, a directly neighboring city of Porto. It includes the orchestra and its leader, its housing at The High-Performance Center for the Arts (CARA) with office, rehearsal spaces and studios plus its remarkable educational program connected to schools and institutions of science and technology. It is a jazz institution closely connected to and embedded in the urban community
. In its entirety it has a larger reach than usual radio orchestras as we know them from Germany and other countries. OJM leaned on strong binds with outstanding US-American musicians while its European reach is less and its presence on European stages outside Portugal still has to develop.
L.U.M.E. ensemble from Lisbon is a unique phenomenon too that has been vital through the years despite not being funded. In recent past it played Ha’fest in Ghent (BE), Music Meeting in Nijmegen (NL), Moersfestival (DE), Jazzfestival Ljubljana (SI), and it were chosen for showcases at the European Jazz Conference in Lisbon and at jazzahead! (DE). For 2020 festivals in Novara (IT), Skopje (MK), Sarajevo (BA), London (UK) and Vilnius (LT) were on the touring plan. It was one of the many hard experiences of this year. With utmost effort Portuguese funding of travel costs for this five-stops tour of the large ensemble had been secured for 2020. Time will tell which 2021 appearances will be realized.
We see a scene with a strong domestic side augmented by an exquisite international side. The prospering of the international (touring) side is however impeded namely by lack of funding of exchange projects and insufficient support of travel costs. Due to this, Portuguese units and configurations are less represented than their artistic and creational potential would allow. Portuguese configurations then are ‘too expensive’ to program and, in case they are programmed, persistently no (substantial or adequate) income is left for the musicians.
Instead of disintegrating into small islands or self-satisfying monads, you can see an engaged and constantly evolving scene that has units with strongly developed own characteristics and unique specificities, in short, a lively universe that keeps on playing and challenging itself. That should be the reason that strong musicians from other universes seek to meet and collaborate with musicians from the scene
as for example those of the mentioned French connection.
4.2. Ljubljana – Lisbon – axis (2011-2017)
At Festa do Jazz I also met Bogdan Benigar from Cankarjev Dom, the artistic director of Ljubljana Jazz Festival. Bogdan Benigar and Pedro Costa of Clean Feed Records should soon start a groundbreaking fertile cooperation – Benigar and Costa shared artistic directorship of the festival - that would last from 2011-2017.
Unforgettable highlights in the very beginning were the concert of Maria João and the concert of the Bernardo Sassetti Trio with dancer Manca Do Ione in 2011.
It was an exemplary exchange project that tremendously helped both Slovenian and Portuguese musicians and is documented in the live albums of the Ljubljana Jazz Series and in a number of regular albums on Clean Feed (a.o. pianist Kaja Draksler, drummer Dre Hocevar and saxophonist Igor Lumpert). It was a brilliant and highly productive example of European collaboration, with four winning parties: the music, the musicians, the audience, and the European cause. While obviously outstandingly productive, it has found no succession as a model yet.
Another fruitful connection came into being with Jazztopad Festival in Wroclaw in 2015 where the two Polish musicians, trumpeter Piotr Damasiewicz and saxophonist Gerard Lebik, were integrated in the Red Trio of pianist Rodrigo Pinheiro, bassist Hernani Faustino and drummer Ferrandini. It was the beginning of a longer collaboration of these musicians in Poland and Portugal.
4.3. Desvio (2016)
A dynamic tension between the internal and the external, a productive friction between the inner and the outer side is a flaming characteristic of the Portuguese scene. Desvio (detour) in early summer of 2016 was a memorable meeting showcasing traits of that scene (a full report of mine you can find here)
It was a meeting of two uneven partners in crime. On one side Pedro Costa, organizer and founder of Clean Feed Records, pioneering force with a deeply ingrained grass roots mentality and on the other side the board of a big pan-European organization, the European Jazz Network (EJN). Costa had just moved the Clean Feed label to Parede, a small coastal place 20 km outside of Lisbon at the road to Cascais. Barely having settled there, he started to organize concerts at Sociedade Musical União Paredense (SMUP), the local music and theatre society, thereby creating an attractive place where local and international spheres meet, and magic happens. EJN held a board meeting there, which was combined with a concert program presenting a broader diversity of Portuguese jazz musicians. So, in addition to his New York and Chicago festival excursions and the running Ljubljana collaboration the move to Parede not only was a practical step for survival of the label in times of hard change in the music industry and the behavior of listeners/ audiences. It became a new focusing point (Brennpunkt) and opportunity to exchange. The meeting was a chance to turn wings more to Europe (whatever that may be) and in return for presenters from a diversity of festivals and venues in Europe to discover Portuguese treasures and make connections in their programming and collaborations in some time at some future point.
4.4. European Jazz Conference (2018)
Already two years later, in September 2018, Desvio found a continuation through an even much larger scale event, when the annual European Jazz Conference of EJN was held at Cultural Center Belem at the banks of the Tago river in Lisbon – for many of the EJN folks still a lively memory (a report of mine about the musical side you can find here
The conference was organized by Sons da Lusofonia in cooperation with EJN and additionally, funded by the municipality of Lisbon, CCB, the tourist organizations of Portugal and Lisbon as well as by a hotel chain. It offered great opportunities for the networking of Portuguese musicians and agents as well as present a broad range of Portuguese musicians.
In the slipstream of European Jazz Conference Portuguese musicians were clearly present at two festivals in Münster, Germany, at Alto Adige Jazz Festival in Bolzano, in Ghent (Bijloke, Handelsbeurs) (BE), at Jazz In The City in Salzburg (AT), and in Berlin clubs as well as at Jazzfest 2019 (DE). Drummer Pedro Melo Alves won the Italian Gaslini Award 2019 and large ensemble L.U.M.E. as well as The Rite Of The Trio (Pedro Melo Alves, Andre Silva, Filipe Louro) were chosen for a showcase at jazzahead! 2019. At a closer look it reveals that the stormy advance of a young Portuguese musician, drummer Pedro Melo Alves – he is ubiquitous on the Portuguese scene too - played an important role.
Musicians from countries with a weaker/more sober infrastructure and funding capacity are confronted with a double problem: they cannot sell themselves so easily to festivals abroad because festivals often count on travel support by musicians’ home country. The other way round it is just the opposite: just in countries with a weaker/more sober infrastructure musicians from countries with better equipped infrastructure/funding system will be in greater demand because it’s ‘cheap’ to book them as an extra attraction. This way the domestic musicians in those countries are double disadvantaged. Getting in elsewhere is hard for them, especially for larger line-ups, and at home places are taken by the ‘cheap’ attractive musicians from abroad. This leads to an incongruent circulation, which is not healthy for the body as a whole. In terms of ‘the marketplace’, you could use the crunchy German expression Wettbewerbsverzerrung to indicate the issue.
As above in chapter 2 became clear many musicians from the North play in Portugal in international meetings and are represented on Portuguese labels but it’s not naturally and necessarily mutual.
Also, with respect to interminglement of musicians there is a gradual scale between the extreme poles depending on the attractiveness of the working conditions such that certain places attract many foreign musicians, others less or almost none. On the other side certain places lose a lot of its domestic musicians especially the most ambitious, dynamic and open ones, who leave to places that offer more attractive working conditions.
Portugal is on this scale situated somewhere on the right half of the horizontal line slowly moving towards the pole on the right. Portuguese musicians are especially strong in maintaining and developing their very own artistic habitat despite non-ideal working conditions.
You often hear from Portuguese musicians that touring abroad is “(too) difficult “because it is “too far away” from places in the North and East. This apparently is not a physical but a psychological obstacle.