…An Explanation:< big>
As recently as the early 1980s, relatively few major labels made jazz records. Columbia, RCA Victor, Decca, Capitol, United Artists, Warner Bros, Atlantic and Mercury were the big names. Independent companies that specialized in regular jazz releases included Prestige, Savoy, Blue Note, Riverside, Contemporary, Fantasy, Bethlehem, Verve and Commodore. Mode, Dooto, Roost, Dig, Tampa, Debut and dozens of other small labels occasionally produced and released jazz recordings on long-playing vinyl discs.
Those who wrote about jazz could be reasonably confident of keeping up with established artists or those with significant potential because those were the performers in whom record companies were willing to invest. Particularly among the majors, a musician got a contract and studio time only if someone at a label believed that a recording would sell enough copies to produce a profit.
After the advent of compact discs, the technology and economies of scale in CD production rapidly developed to the point where an eighteen-year-old saxophonist could be his own record company. With reasonably good off-the-shelf equipment, a musician could even record at home and come up with an album that would not make your ears hurt–at least not for technical reasons. CDs became cheap to produce and–more important–cheap to reproduce. Musicians pass them around like business cards. Ralph the budding pianist, guitarist or drummer becomes Ralph Records. He produces his own album of twelve original compositions and sends it to every publication, writer, radio station, web site and blogger whose address he can find.
In the first paragraph, I mentioned twenty-two record companies. It would take at least twenty-two pages to list all of today’s labels. Virtually every young musician you heard last night in a club, coffee house, corner bar, church recreation room or your neighbor’s garage has made, is making or is about to make a CD. He or she (there are lots of aspiring young women musicians today) will distribute the disc to those who might write about it or play it on the air or the internet.
To ambitious players and singers, this ease of production and distribution opens vistas of
hope. For critics, reviewers and DJs, it results in floods of promotional CD copies or MP3s that stream into their real or virtual mail boxes. Rising tides of CDs engulf their offices and listening rooms. If they devoted all of their waking hours to listening, they could not hear a tenth of the music pouring in. All of this is not to complain; there are those who think that being awash in free CDs would be heaven.
It is merely to explain that what follows is an attempt to mention, with brief comments, a few of the CDs that have recently arrived at Rifftides world headquarters–some not so recently. I selected a few of them because the artists seem to me important. I chose some out of curiosity, others by closing my eyes and pointing. I hasten to add that these are, for the most part, professionally produced albums by experienced musicians. The other kind go to the listening room floor…because I’m out of shelf space.
This is the first part of an overview that may go on for a few days along with whatever other items pop up on Rifftides. If the overview doesn’t include your CD, or your favorite eighteen-year-old tenor player’s, please understand that it would be humanly impossible to hear, let alone write about, all the CDs that show up.
Willie Nelson, Wynton Marsalis, Two Men With The Blues (Blue Note). Without pretension, with solid musicianship, the country hero and the jazz lord of Lincoln Center get together in concert. They play and sing lots of blues, but “Stardust” and “Ain’t Nobody’s Business” steal the honors. Saxophonist Walter Blanding and the young pianist Dan Nimmer deserve equal billing.
Roy Hargrove, Earfood (Emarcy/Groovin’ High). There’s nothing pretentious here, either. The trumpeter leads his quintet through a set that often recalls predecessors like Lee Morgan and Kenny Dorham. This is a working band, tight and unified. Standing out from all the hard bop cooking and soul stirring is Hargrove’s simple, expressive flugelhorn exposition of Kurt Weill’s “Speak Low.” What a gifted melodicist he is.
František Uhlíř, Maybe Later (Arta). Three months ago, I wrote that I was looking forward to a new CD by this Czech virtuoso of the double bass. It finally arrived. In addition to his long association with pianist Emil Viklický, Uhlíř leads his own trio. He is brilliant in interaction with the unusual guitarist Darko Jurkovic and drummer Jaromir Helesic and establishes yet again that he is one of the masters of his instrument. This may be hard to find outside of Europe. It is worth a search.
Paul Bley, About Time (Justin Time). More than a half-hour of the CD is devoted to the title
track, which consists of the venerable pianist’s autumnal meditation on “All The Things You Are” or, to put it more accurately, on the song’s harmonic material. It provides a look into Bley’s allusive, sometimes whimsical, and always very musical methods. The shorter piece is Bley rummaging through Sonny Rollins’s “Pent-up House,” retitled for the occasion, “Encore.” Amusing moment: his quote from “I Ain’t Mad at You.”
More next time.