The first three Spoonhunt CDs are now available – acoustic free improvisation, large ensemble noise, rockist free jazz, and a bit of Schubert. Also including one of the final live performances by guitarist and pioneering improviser John Russell.
All titles were recorded live at the legendary Cafe Oto in London by Shaun Crook, and feature graphic design by Matthew Grigg. The three albums are:
Limulus by the Dominic Lash Quartet (with Javier Carmona, Ricardo Tejero, and Alex Ward)
Distinctions by Consorts (Douglas Benford; Steve Beresford; Marjolaine Charbin; Chris Cundy; Seth Cooke; Angharad Davies; Phil Durrant; Matthew Grigg; Bruno Guastalla; Martin Hackett; Tim Hill; Tina Hitchens; Sarah Hughes; Mark Langford; Dominic Lash; Yvonna Magda; Hannah Marshall; Helen Papaioannou; Yoni Silver; Alex Ward)
Discernment by John Butcher / Dominic Lash / John Russell / Mark Sanders
When John Brien founded Important Records in 2001, he was determined to establish a curatorial vision that reflected his experience working in record stores, where every section could yield unexpected bounty. The enormous stylistic gulf between the label’s first two releases—a 7” of ramshackle pop songs by Daniel Johnston and a characteristically corrosive collection of looped noise by Merzbow—set a standard for the striking aesthetic curveballs that would become the label’s signature. Twenty years and 500 releases in, the label has emerged as a bastion of boundless exploration, spanning crushing doom (Ocean), makeshift experimental electronics (Jessica Rylan), archaic lute compositions (Jozef Van Wissem), wispy drone (Bitchin Baja), and more. “The goal,” Brien says, “was to be a genre and brand-free label that could really release anything.”
Launched in 2009, the Norwegian label HUBRO has quickly established itself as a champion of the country’s progressive jazz and improv scenes. The Oslo-based venture was founded by Andreas Meland, who was working as the Norwegian label manager for the iconic jazz label ECM (Edition of Contemporary Music) at the time. Meland founded HUBRO as a way to “pursue a desire to take part in nurturing the artistic process again,” and to rectify the fact that “there weren’t enough labels around putting love, money, and time into helping and nurturing all the great artists and musicians.”
HUBRO’s inaugural project was Arbor, the second album from acoustic doom-jazz trio Splashgirl. Since then, the label has built up a rich vault of over one hundred releases, all of which combine a forward-thinking compositional mentality with a strong sense of musical history. In the HUBRO discography, glass harmonicas and traditional Norwegian Hardanger fiddles mingle with modern digital sampling techniques and waves of vibrating drone-style synths, creating immersive ambient experiences that can feel both pastoral and futuristic at once.
The New Focus Recordings catalog is a who’s who of modern composed and improvised music. Since its founding by guitarist Dan Lippel and composer Peter Gilbert in 2004, the label has released approximately 300 albums, representing everything from no-wave-style electric guitar quartets to reimagined recordings of romantic-era composers, electroacoustic experimentations to contemporary classical compositions. These days, New Focus adds a new album nearly every week under its main archive, or on one of its many sub-labels. “It really is about freedom to make the project you want to make,” says Lippel. “I don’t really buy into the idea that a label’s identity or brand would be tied necessarily to genre or style […] if it feels sincere, it feels genuine to me. I want the label to be a space for that kind of work.”
As you probably know by now, a typical episode is based around an interview with an artist. But Pi Recordings is such an important label when it comes to the kind of music covered on Burning Ambulance – I mean, Roscoe Mitchell, who’s released music on Pi both as a solo artist and with the Art Ensemble of Chicago, was the first ever guest on this show – that I thought it was important and worthwhile to have these guys on to discuss 20 years of the label.
Catalytic Sound, a cooperative organization comprising 30 avant-garde instrumentalists and composers, is attempting to actualize this dream—and hoping to help other similarly minded musicians do the same for themselves. In January, the co-op’s partners launched Catalytic Soundstream, a small-scale streaming platform that charges listeners $10 per month for access to a rotating library of albums from the fringes of improvised music. The catalog is much more curated than the neverending buffets of the major platforms, with between 100 and 150 albums available at any given time and new ones swapped in and out every day. Most of these records feature one or more of the players who operate Catalytic and share equally in its revenue, an international and multi-generational roster of out-jazz and free improv luminaries that includes Joe McPhee, Tomeka Reid, Tashi Dorji, Ikue Mori, claire rousay, Chris Corsano, and Luke Stewart.
Jazz is often called “America’s classical music,” but a 77-year-old man in Germany has spent most of his life debunking that claim, with formidable success.
Few in the general public recognize the name Manfred Eicher. In the jazz world, however, he is regarded with reverence. His record label ECM, based in Munich, has transformed the landscape of contemporary jazz over the last half-century, and proves it year after year by winning polls, earning awards and accolades, and—perhaps most surprising—making money with music that other labels wouldn’t consider releasing.
When Sean Peoples’ experimental pop label, Sockets Records, shut down in early 2013, he was eager to take a break. The reprieve ended up being short-lived, however, as a confluence of personal and professional realizations led to him start laying the groundwork for what would become his next label, D.C.-based Atlantic Rhythms.
The first was that Peoples had begun to listen to music differently. Having just lost both of his parents to cancer, Peoples wanted to submerge himself in healing music; the idea of sound healing and tuning the mind and body for repair held a very strong resonance. He also really wanted to collaborate with his friend, Nick Apice, “to build something that could explore patterns, color, and graphic identity.” With a renewed sense of purpose and an interest in continuing to support the work of the collaborative community of independent artists he’d met through Sockets, Peoples founded Atlantic Rhythms in 2015.
Under the leadership of Bob Thiele, who took over from Taylor during the label’s first year, Impulse! would be a beacon and a bellwether, through the 1960s and into the late ‘70s. As Ashley Kahn put it in his 2006 book The House That Trane Built: The Story of Impulse Records: “The label’s devotion to the mostly African-American, mostly avant-garde players collectively responsible for the last significant leap forward in modern jazz — the point where most jazz histories and timelines tend to end — stands today as one of its most important accomplishments.”
That devotion, which now also extends to present-day Impulse! artists like the Black British saxophonist Shabaka Hutchings, will take center stage in a celebration of the label’s 60th anniversary — spanning new releases as well as deluxe reissue packages and strategic partnerships.
One of the more positive things that happened in 2020 was the relaunch of Neuma Records. In 1988 Shirish Korde and Jerry Tabor launched the label. They built a catalog that included recordings of well known twentieth century composers such as Xenakis, Cage, Boulez, Messiaen, Nono, Scelsi and Varese. But the catalog caught my attention in the early 90’s because it was releasing recordings of works by contemporary electroacoustic composers and recordings by performers who focused on the work of lesser known contemporary composers . The catalog includes works by Dashow, DeLio, Dodge, Gaburo, Johnston, Karpen, Lansky, Laske, Lippe, Martirano, Oliveros, Reynolds, Risset, Saariaho, Subotnick, Yuasa and many many more.
By the end of the 90’s Neuma’s release schedule had really become sparse. In 2020 the label relaunched with Philip Blackburn taking over. Blackburn is a composer who spent almost 30 years working at Innova Recordings. Innova focuses on assisting composers and performers through the recording, publication, marketing and distribution process. As a result, Innova has curated a diverse body of contemporary music spanning more than 650 albums. Blackburn has brought this assistive and curatorial approach to Neuma.
In December of 2020 Neuma released three new recordings. The first was from composer Wesley Fuller (1930-2020). It is a nice collection of seven electroacoustic pieces for instruments and computer.
Fuller ‘s works skillfully blends acoustic instruments and computer generated sounds with a focus on gesture, shape and color.
The second release is from composer Robert Moran. It is a nice collection of eight diverse works for orchestra. On this album Moran’s work is primarily neoromantic with occasional minimalist tendencies.
The third release is a concert recording from 1967 of composer Kenneth Gaburo conducting the New Music Choral Ensemble in a diverse program of twentieth century choral music. This is a really interesting release. If you don’t have any contemporary choral music in your collection then this would be the disc to have. It is not hard to imagine that in 1967 very few people in the US had heard live performances of choral music by Luigi Nono, Anton Webern and Olivier Messiaen. But practically no one had heard any music, never the less choral music from Pauline Oliveros, Ben Johnston, Leslie Bassett, Charles Hamm and Robert Shallenberg. Under the direction of Kenneth Gaburo the New Music Choral Ensemble took on the extreme technical challenges of performing such a diverse and difficult program. The program’s compositions included everything from 12 tone serial music to 31 tone just intonation to graphic and descriptive notation to works with live and or prerecorded electronics! The spirited performances on this disc are extremely well done. Also included are two interesting electronic pieces by Gaburo that were used to allow the singers a short break in between some of the pieces on the program. I highly recommend that you give this album a listen!
As I was getting ready to post this, Neuma released several additional titles – Robert Moran’s opera “Buddha goes to Bayreuth”, Gina Biver’s “Nimbus” which is seven miniatures for electroacoustic chamber ensemble, spoken word and soprano voice, James Caldwell’s “Pocket music” a set of concreté miniatures made with “small” sounds usually of things found in his pockets, and Spanish composer Juan J.G. Escuerdo’s “Shapes of Inner Timespaces” a collection of eight acousmatic compositions. Perusing their online catalog today it looks like several more titles are being released in February including a recording of Harry Partch’s “The Bewitched” ! I am glad to see that Neuma is back and that Blackburn has established an aggressive release schedule of diverse contemporary music. You can hear more samples of current and upcoming releases as well as selected back catalog on the Nuema Soundcloud Page. So check it out!