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New Jazz on Vinyl

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.

Gearbox
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.

Jazz Village
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.”

ECM
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.

 

Khiov
Although it has fewer than 20 releases under its belt, Khiov (khiov.com) has already found its niche. Launched in 2009, the South Korean reissue label has zeroed in on recordings that originally appeared when virtually all new jazz was CD-only; thus far most of its catalogue focuses on albums first released in the 1990s. Most of these are well-known titles by big names, including Herbie Hancock, Michael Brecker, John Scofield, John McLaughlin, and Charlie Haden. Where other reissue vinyl labels sometimes omit songs in order to fit everything on a single platter without compromising sound quality, Khiov often uses two discs for albums that originally took advantage of the CD’s longer running time. The 180-gram records are pressed at Master Media Productions in Germany. Khiov Records recently became more accessible—and affordable—after connecting with Music Direct. Recommended: Charlie Haden and Pat Metheny: Beyond the Missouri Sky (Short Stories). Originally released on Verve in 1997, this album matched two jazz musicians with roots in the heartland. The projects where these two musicians previously collaborated—80/81 and Rejoicing—were, for Metheny, mostly electric-guitar affairs, and on this set it’s nice to hear Haden’s deep, solemn bass tones matched with Metheny’s sparse, tasteful, and understated acoustic stylings. As with Bill Evans and Chet Baker, the music here reminds us that the softest touch can sometimes have the strongest impact. Missouri Sky includes some interesting selections from outside of the jazz canon, including compositions by Andrea and Ennio Morricone (themes from Cinema Paradiso), Jimmy Webb (“The Moon’s A Harsh Mistress”), Henry Mancini (“Two for the Road”), and Roy Acuff, whose “The Precious Jewel” is the “down-home” cut. Sonics are open, with a warm, in-the-room sound and plenty of bloom.

Venus
Venus is a Japanese Label launched by Tetsuo Hara in 1992. Once a record producer for RCA and Alpha, Hara employs a 24-bit mastering process known as “Hyper Magnum Sound.” Venus is popular with fans of female vocalists (including Nicki Parrott, Alexis Cole, and Tessa Souter) and tasty piano trios (led by Richie Beirach, Steve Kuhn, Stanley Cowell, Fred Hersch, and others). Every year Venus releases ten vinyl LPs that are culled from its more popular recent CD titles, and they tend to sell out quickly. Along with stocking other independent Japanese jazz labels as well as rare reissued CDs and LPs, the California-based Eastwind Import (eastwindimport.com) has been carrying everything by Venus since 2006. Recommended: Eric Alexander: Recado Bossa Nova. Early in his career Eric Alexander put out a number of albums on Delmark and Milestone, and since 2004 he’s been a mainstay on Venus. His most consistent collaborator has been pianist Harold Mabern, who is one reason Recado Bossa Nova is such a memorable session. Mabern has been quite prolific lately, with numerous dates on Venus as well as some fine Smoke Sessions dates. Supported by Nat Reeves on bass and Joe Farnsworth on drums, the pianist sparkles on this record. Meanwhile Alexander offers a full-bodied and weighty tenor sound along with a clean tone. His solos are chiseled and focused, and he is a master at slowly building intensity. Also Recommended: Dan Nimmer: All The Things You Are. Pianist Dan Nimmer has played extensively with Wynton Marsalis, including the recent Live in Cuba release, which I reviewed in Issue 260. No doubt Nimmer has formidable technique, but there’s more to All The Things You Are than a flagrant display of virtuosity; melody comes first, combined with well-developed solos, a sure sense of swing, and a strong lyrical streak—basically, he’s a pianist’s pianist. This record is devoted to well-known standards such as “All the Things You Are,” “Alone Together,” “Fly Me to the Moon,” and “Night and Day.” As on Recado Bossa Nova, this album boasts firm bass, realistic-sounding piano, and crisp, lively drums.

HighNote
HighNote hasn’t put out a lot of vinyl—five LPs to date—but when every release is memorable, it would seem silly to overlook this NYC-based label. The label’s 180-gram LPs by Eric Alexander, Tom Harrell, Kenny Burrell, Joey DeFrancesco, and Larry Coryell were all CD-only originally; every one warranted high-quality remastered vinyl. Recommended Larry Coryell: Monk, Train, Miles & Me. You may have followed Larry Coryell when he was one of the more ground-breaking jazz guitarists of the late 1960s, or perhaps you favored his fusion music or followed his acoustic phase. Since then he’s released a long string of straight-ahead jazz albums, and 1999’s Monk, Train, Miles & Me may be the best of them. On what’s primarily a quartet session, it’s nice hearing Coryell team up with pianist John Hicks as they pay tribute to three titans of modern jazz. Originally released on CD in 1999, this session reunites Coryell with Rudy Van Gelder, whose vast discography includes an album Coryell recorded with the Free Spirits in 1967. The CD version of Monk, Train, Miles & Me was mixed, edited, and mastered at 24-bit resolution by Van Gelder. Both the SACD and the vinyl version impress with their transparency and bloom, leaving one to wonder if Coryell’s electric guitar sound has ever been captured more effectively.

NoBusiness Records
Based in Vilnius, Lithuania, NoBusiness Records (nobusinessrecords.com) is largely devoted to avant-garde jazz. Not every release comes out on vinyl, but since the label’s inception in 2008 a healthy percentage of its records have been dedicated to that format. If you’re a fan of labels like Black Saint, Hat Hut, India Navigation, ESP, and BYG Actuel, you should know about NoBusiness. Many of the musicians on the label are European, including a healthy contingent from the UK, but its discography also includes some important American artists. Some of the music on NoBusiness is aggressively avant-garde—as releases by William Hooker, Evan Parker, Mats Gustafsson, Joe McPhee, and David S. Ware would suggest—but it also has a quieter and more lyrical side that includes releases by Howard Riley and Ran Blake. The location of NoBusiness Records may seem remote, but the business-savvy label has distributors across Europe and an increasing presence in U.S. record stores. NoBusiness Records was deemed the Best Record Label of 2009 by All About Jazz and also received The ASCAP Deems Taylor Publisher Award in 2012. Recommended: Barry Guy: Five Fizzles for Samuel Beckett. Solo bass albums offer a splendid opportunity to focus on an instrument with a sound that is rich, deep, warm, and as natural as tree bark. There are many such records, but you would have a hard time finding another one that sounds like this ten-inch LP. Building compositions around the texts of Samuel Beckett is tricky enough (as on Michael Mantler’s No Answer), but how does one embody the spirit of Beckett’s words with a single instrument and no words? Guy has described each song as “a short compressed outburst,” and he creates those outbursts by aggressively scraping the bow across the strings, slapping the strings with both hands, percussively striking the strings with a bow and other objects, creating eerie high notes with harmonics, wedging the bow between the strings and then plucking, and bowing above and below the bridge—everything except playing a walking bass line, in other words.

Blue Note
To put it lightly, Blue Note has certain bragging rights when it comes to vinyl, and it’s nice to know that, as soon as Don Was took charge in 2012, he embraced that tradition. Along with an ambitious reissue campaign, many recordings that were originally CD-only have received their first-ever vinyl release, and new albums often come out on wax. Some Blue Note vinyl projects include double albums in order to include every track from the original CD. Recommended: David Sanborn/Bobby Hutcherson/Joey DeFrancesco/Billy Hart: Enjoy the View. In some ways Enjoy the View presents a departure for the musicians involved. On this 2014 date saxophonist David Sanborn trades his pop stylings for straight-ahead jazz. While the Hammond B-3 often functions as the glue that holds a band together, here Joey DeFrancesco’s sudden jabs while comping add some friction to the proceedings. On his recent ECM recordings Hart has favored a highly impressionistic approach, but his playing here is scrappier and more aggressive. There’s a looseness and spontaneity to these performances, including passages where Sanborn, DeFrancesco, and vibraphonist Bobby Hutcherson are so busy playing off of each other that the lines between foreground and background begin to blur. It’s the interplay between the members of this quartet that makes Enjoy the View a special record.

Rune Grammofon
At the top of its website (runegrammofon.com) Rune Grammofon classifies itself as a “record label dedicated to releasing work by the most adventurous and creative Norwegian artists and composers.” That encompasses everything from chamber jazz to high-decibel prog to alt-country. One of the pleasures of following Rune Grammofon is knowing that you have no idea what its next album is going to sound like. Recent jazz releases include music by Fire! Orchestra, Albatrosh, and Arve Henriksen, plus a first-ever release of a 1982 concert by Detail. The music world is a more colorful place because of this fine Norwegian label. Recommended: Espen Eriksen Trio: Never Ending January. Recorded at Propeller Studio in Oslo, this session is accessible and melodic, with just enough dynamics to keep it from getting too predictable. If you like ballad-oriented piano trios with an impressionistic approach or have a soft spot for ECM or Nordic jazz, this powerfully understated record should appeal to you. Eriksen was smitten by the C. Bechstein grand piano that was waiting for him in the studio, adding extra inspiration to the session (and it does sound lovely).


Fonè
Giulio Cesare Ricci suffers from a rare affliction known as “studio-itis.” As he puts it, “Modern studios all too often have a cold atmosphere and lack any feeling.” The founder, president, and producer of Fonè, an Italian label that was launched in 1983, Ricci is a bit of a nomad when it comes to the art of recording. For each project he seeks out whatever site he feels is most appropriate for the next project; locations have included churches, jazz clubs, country mansions, drawing rooms, theaters, auditoriums, and castles. Each new site and instrumental combination launches a new search for perfect mic placement, and Ricci doesn’t stop until he finds, as he puts it, “that pocket-handkerchief sized space of air where the whole atmosphere can be felt.” Traditionally Fonè has focused more on classical music than jazz, but by now the jazz titles number about 30, and apparently several more are on the way. Most of Fonè’s jazz releases could be characterized as chamber jazz with acoustic instruments; drums are seldom used, and these recordings are characterized by a natural and intimate sound. Pressings are limited to 496 copies, and the recording chain for the vinyl LPs is pure analog. All recordings have an analog master and digital master, and along with vinyl LPs Ricci releases SACDs and hi-res downloads. Recommended: Scott Hamilton/Paolo Birro/Alfred Kramer: Bean and the Boys. Any well-played tribute to tenor saxophonist legend Coleman Hawkins would be welcome, but this project is also special in other ways. When it comes to showing respect for the early tenor masters, you can’t do much better than Scott Hamilton, who long ago modeled his sound around Hawkins, Lester Young, Ben Webster, and others. Also, Bean and the Boys primarily focuses on compositions by Coleman Hawkins; the exceptions are Monk’s “I Mean You,” and “Body and Soul,” which, when Hawkins recorded it in 1939, contained one of the most important solos in jazz history. With intimate, unpretentious, straightforward playing and engineering that skillfully captures the ambience of the room where it was recorded, Bean and the Boys is highly recommended.

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