We all know that vinyl records, once seemingly almost defunct, have experienced a spike in sales. With new music the resurgence has crossed many genres, but some still lag behind. In my survey of current bossa nova that appeared in Issue 258, for example, only one of the releases came out on wax; with classical music, new recordings seldom receive the vinyl treatment.
New jazz is starting to fare better. It still trails behind indie rock and roots music, and most jazz releases are still likely to be CD-only. However, the numbers have been growing, and recent trends have been especially encouraging. Long-established and larger labels like Blue Note and ECM have increased their level of commitment, increasing the odds that more small labels will jump in as well.
Younger musicians have embraced the medium for aesthetic, philosophical, and commercial reasons. As tenor saxophonist Binker Golding put it, “Music seems to be sort of moving into an age where people are perhaps subconsciously perceiving it as disposable. You can get it free on YouTube or Spotify, and people are sampling other people’s music. Personally, I’d like to see all of that get reversed.” Golding added, “I’m told that vinyl is the only type of music hardware where the sales are actually going up, so that’s good.” The new trend isn’t limited to the young lions, however—one of the musicians in this survey is Ahmad Jamal, who released his first EP in 1951.
New jazz on vinyl is an international phenomenon. In fact, nine different countries are represented in the ten labels discussed here; only the United States appears twice. The balance between straight-ahead and outside jazz sounds seems to reflect jazz in general. Although it’s not universal, new jazz on vinyl has an audiophile streak, including pure analog recordings. This list is by no means exhaustive—Delmark, Cuneiform, Nonesuch, and the newly re-formed Impulse are also among the more visible labels to release new jazz on vinyl. In Issue 240 I wrote about Mack Avenue’s commitment to the format, and Cécile McLorin Salvant’s recent For One to Love is one of many reasons to get to know that label. Occasionally in this article you’ll see first-time vinyl releases of albums that were previously CD-only, which should appeal to the same people who seek out new jazz on black disc.
Finally, a word on why this is seen as an encouraging development in the first place. Often support for vinyl is linked to sonics—no argument there. Also, anyone whose collection of jazz albums dates back to the early 1950s has to welcome an opportunity to add some current music to his shelves. And the more commonplace new jazz on wax becomes, the more the genre in general can profit from the vinyl resurgence. If you’ve read this far, you probably agree that’s a good thing.
From the time it released its first album in 2009, Gearbox made it clear that it’s a staunch supporter of audiophile recordings, analog technology, and high-quality vinyl pressings. “The studio was principally built for Gearbox Records to master and cut its own records exactly how it wants,” its website (gearboxrecords.com) states, “with no digital in the signal path or even a digital to analogue convertor to generate preview signals. It features an all valve playback area—for vinyl and digital playback and for demonstrating great hifi provided by our partners Audio Note.” Vowing to “put the ritual back in music listening,” the London-based label hosts dedicated listening sessions in its studio. Gearbox deserves extra credit because it committed to vinyl before it spiked in popularity. Some titles have been culled from decades-old and previously-unreleased live recordings by important UK musicians (Tubby Hayes, Ronnie Scott, Don Rendell, Joe Harriott); we should also mention a date by Dexter Gordon, whose Soy Califa Duck Baker reviewed in Issue 250. Mark Murphy and Kenny Wheeler, both now deceased, recorded new music for the label; young lions on Gearbox include tenor saxophonist Simon Spillett, whose Square One, a memorable straight-ahead session, appeared in 2013. Recommended. Binker and Moses: Dem Ones. Tenor saxophonist Binker Golding and drummer Moses Boyd have both played with jazz and soul vocalist Zara McFarlane. In fact, it was during a tour with McFarlane that the seeds of Dem Ones were planted, as the open-ended sax-and-drums improvisations during soundchecks seemed to lead somewhere. Eventually the ideas that were generated before gigs developed into the duets on Dem Ones, an edgy yet accessible album that matches the immediacy and urgency of free improv with structure and variety. After the relentless firepower of the opener, “No Longer ’Tings,” the playfully bouncy beat of “Man Like GP” sustains the energy level. “Black Ave Maria” has a Middle Eastern strain while “The Creeper” features Golding at his most lyrical. Sonics are open and natural-sounding, with a rich sense of timbre. If you’ve been complaining that jazz feels too far removed from the street, check out Dem Ones.
Founded in 1958, Harmonia Mundi is a French label long associated with classical music. It’s not restricted to that, however, and its Jazz Village imprint puts out a colorful mix of music. The label’s discography includes releases by European musicians (Philippe Petrucciani, Ibrahim Maalouf, Raynald Colom) and Americans, including Kyle Eastwood and Ahmad Jamal. Most Jazz Village releases come out on vinyl. Recommended: Ahmad Jamal: Saturday Morning. This two-LP set finds Jamal in peak form, as inventive, playful, and witty as ever, constructing lines that are accessible at the same time that they have a sort of daredevil spirit. Check out how, during his performance of Ellington’s “I Got It Bad And That Ain’t Good,” he keeps finding sly ways to slip in a quote from “Take The A-Train.” Throughout the record Jamal makes sure the members of the rhythm section (Reginald Veal, bass; Herlin Riely, drums; Manolo Badrena, percussion) stay on their toes while they keep him grounded. On a lively recording with a nice sense of snap, Reginald Veal’s bass sounds firm and taut, with real heft—and what a bass player he is, with superb intonation and a penchant for what Christian McBride refers to as “the grease.”
When Mal Waldron released the first-ever ECM album in 1969, Free at Last, no one knew the newly-launched German label would have such an enormous impact on music. For 20 years ECM’s vinyl LPs with striking album covers were prominently displayed in record stores around the world, making many music lovers aware of artists like Terje Rypdal, Jan Garbarek, Egberto Gismonti, and Eberhard Weber. In the past few years ECM has revisited the format with reissues and newer recordings. In 2015 the label reissued (along with some classic albums by Keith Jarrett, Pat Metheny, Chick Corea, and Jan Garbarek) new titles by Jakob Bro, Mathias Eick, the Chris Potter Underground Orchestra, and Vijay Iyer. Those titles represent artists who are anything but “the old guard.” If this is ECM’s way of testing the water to see if jazz listeners respond, well, test away. Recommended: Vijay Iyer Trio: Break Stuff. In Issue 253 Bill Milkowski was impressed by the risk-taking spirit of this trio. “On Break Stuff the intrepid sonic explorers again deal in the kind of intricate time-shifting territory and interactive group-think that has been the group’s stock-in-trade since its inception,” he wrote. “It’s an amazing balancing act, like watching the Flying Karamazov Brothers juggling ostinatos instead of pins.” Sonically the two-LP album also impresses, its richly detailed recording revealing the telepathic interplay of Iyer on piano, Stephan Crump on bass, and Marcus Gilmore on drums. These performances have an edginess that balances ECM’s more pastoral side, reflecting a similar spirit found in recent albums by Tim Berne, David Torn, Marilyn Crispell, and Jack DeJohnette.