Cuneiform is an independent label recording music that is out of the mainstream. The Claudia Quartet, Wadada Leo Smith and Thinking Plague are on the Cuneiform roster, and it has groups with even wider orbits—Bent Knee from Boston, for instance, the Norwegian quintet I.P.A., the British jazz-punk rock group called Led Bib, and Naima, a trio from Spain. That list constitutes a thin sampling of Cuneiform talent. The history of the label’s name goes back 5,500 years or more. Curious about how it was chosen, I dropped a line to Joyce, the label’s director of publicity and information, and asked, “Are you archeologists?” Here is some of her answer.
I’m actually an art historian by academic training, BA + MA (not an archeologist, a modernist). I’m not the one who came up with the name. Cuneiform’s owner and founder, Steve Feigenbaum, did. He wanted a different, distinctive name. We both admired ancient Middle Eastern art. Cuneiform is one of the earliest systems of writing, of recording information. The Sumerians developed it in Mesopotamia around 3500 BC. It was a radical innovation in the ancient world. Unlike pictorial languages, it was phonetic and semantic and thus capable of expressing abstract concepts. Music is recorded information, and we wanted our label to record radically innovative music. So, naming the label after cuneiform seemed fitting.
It broke my heart that most people did not know what the word cuneiform was about—what it referred to—until Iraq was in the news following the US invasion in 2003.
In the course of our correspondence, I learned that Joyce has been Mrs. Steve Feigenbaum since 1985. She left her work with the federal government in 1993 to join Cuneiform and help her husband operate the label. Here we see the Feigenbaums on a visit to the painter Salvador Dali’s house in Portlligat / Cadaques, Spain. Their escort is unidentified.
Among Cuneiform’s recent releases is Wadada Leo Smith’s America’s National Parks. Smith is the trumpeter, with Anthony Davis, piano; John Lindberg, bass; Pheeroan akLaff, drums; and Ashley Walters, cello. This is Smith’s “Yellowstone.”