2012 has seen an upsurge in the activity and ambition of UK indie jazz labels, even in tough times for CD sales. Here are some brief case studies of labels making a difference, beginning with some of the newer ones
Whirlwind Recordings Set up in the early part of last year with the release of Purpose Built by UK-based American bassist Michael Janisch, Whirlwind aims, it says, to “present the artists’ unadulterated artistic vision while exceeding industry standards in audio fidelity, graphic design, and promotional consideration." Releases have included The Immeasurable Code by Phil Robson, Smiling Organizm by Zhenya Strigalev, and Cohesion by Partikel.
Naim Jazz Just three years old the Salisbury-based imprint (previously the Naim Label) has had a good year with best selling well-received releases by the Neil Cowley Trio in The Face of Mount Molehill and Get The Blessing who launched OCDC, and both bands have also toured in the United States. The label says it is “dedicated to everything from smooth jazz right up to avant-garde", and presents its artists like an indie rock label might.
Edition Records Established in 2008 by pianist Dave Stapleton and photographer Tim Dickeson, Edition in a short space of time has been widely recognised both for its look and artistic taste. With the success of Phronesis the label had its first hit band on its hands, and successes have included the Ivo Neame Octet’s groundbreaking Yatra, and Marius Neset’s Golden Xplosion.
Basho Records Ahead of the release in 2013 of the sophomore Impossible Gentlemen release for Basho produced by Steve Rodby, this north London label, run by Christine Allen and Max Steuer since 2004, came of age when the Kit Downes Trio was nominated for a Mercury award, and the label has also been strongly associated with the early career of star pianist Gwilym Simcock. The label recently released the latest album of James Allsopp’s hugely promising band Golden Age of Steam.
Babel label A pillar of the UK jazz label community, and possibly the best known of them all, Babel was founded in the mid-1990s by former economist Oliver Weindling in London. With an unsurpassable passion for the music and a desire to develop both esoteric and the more accessible forms of jazz and improv Babel has seen critical success with Billy Jenkins, Polar Bear, Portico Quartet, Christine Tobin and trioVD. With increasing levels of output new bands Dice Factory and Indigo Kid coming on tap the creative spirit of the UK scene in the best traditions of the label.
F-ire Label The acclaimed Roller trio has spearheaded the F-ire Collective release roster this year. http://www.f-ire.com/label
Trio Drummer Clark Tracey’s label http://www.triorecords.co.uk
Emanem improv legend founded in 1974 http://www.emanemdisc.com/emanem.html
Leaf Leeds label whose artists include Polar Bear http://www.theleaflabel.com/en/index.php
Splashpoint Ian Shaw released his Fran Landesman album on this Sussex label in August http://www.splashpointmusic.com
Jellymould Huddersfield indie home to Hannes Riepler and the Magic Hat Ensemble. http://www.jellymouldjazz.net
Efpi Manchester pace-setting label with Beats and Pieces on its books. http://efpirecords.com
Phronesis pictured above
If industry pundits are right ― http://www.musicweek.com/news/read/radio-1-music-boss-guitar-music-is-coming-back/052585 ― and guitar music is to return centrestage in indiedom, thinking beyond, jazz guitar may follow suit.
The signs are there, but how will it build?
It could go retro in the hands of someone like Hannes Riepler who draws in a crowd of young players to his Tuesday Charlie Wright’s jams in Shoreditch. Or more contemporary, stimulated by a charismatic player such as Dan Messore who has started a series of Sunday gigs at the Vortex and whose band Indigo Kid joins the dots between the Iain Ballamy school of improvisers and new players such as BBC New Generation artist saxophonist Trish Clowes.
More likely, though, given the big interest in bands such as Supersilent who have been touring with John Paul Jones and play tonight at London venue the Village Underground, is the electronica side to guitar music.
There’s no finer an exemplar of this strand than Eivind Aarset whose new album Dream Logic has just been released by ECM. It’s a duo record featuring the 51-year-old guitarist with sampler Jan Bang, whose festival Punkt this year saw live performance by ambient pioneer Brian Eno.
The world where guitar synths and keyboards combine is the battleground of innovation, and other bands such as Eyes of a Blue Dog with trumpeter Rory Simmons switching to guitar and live sampling by drummer Terje Evensen coalescing with vocals to chart new territory and add to the interplay.
For nearly a decade and a half since Electronique Noire and with the Sonic Codex Orchestra Aarset has continued his pioneering work that makes each of his albums seem like a statement and stand out from the crowd.
‘The most significant jazz album to come out of Norway since Khmer’
Glacially slow and lingering Dream Logic’s 11 tracks are mostly the work of Bang and Aarset although producer Erik Honoré who recorded and mixed much of the album is co-credited on ‘Surrender’, and ‘The Beauty of Decay’.
With Aarset think the late Pete Cosey, think music from south east Asia, delivered at times by a Boss digital delay pedal, and you’re half way there with Aarset who in his youth was influenced by Jimi Hendrix, Miles Davis and Terje Rypdal. That trinity is interesting but a Venn diagram of all three does allow for the starting point that for those interested in finding Rypdal via Aarset, like say Finnish band Oddarrang, there is huge transformation possible in the air.
If jazz guitar does move centrestage it will be different with input from electronica. Retro currents can drive change, ironically, and if you’re heard the until 2012 unreleased archive album Echoes of Indiana Avenue by Wes Montgomery you’ll understand what I mean, but it’s the new generation that given the possibilities technology allows has the potential to revolutionise the music to reflect the present.
It’s the journey towards a sound in jazz no one has ever heard. Aarset is, it’s clear, an innovator of some clout, as Dream Logic his finest work to date clearly indicates. The most significant jazz album to come out of Norway since Khmer in the late-1990s.
Eivind Aarset above. Photo: ECM