Ten years is a long time in the life of an independent label. It takes commitment and a love for the music to keep it going that long. It is all the more impressive when one considers the fact that the initial impetus was to document musicians from Quebec. It was a bold move, but pioneers go out on the twin limbs of risk and hope. And so was conceived Red Toucan.
The first artists to be signed to the label were Charles Papasoff and Normand Guilbeault, both making their debut recordings. Papasoff had Baikida Carroll, Pheeroan AkLaff and Santi Debriano in his band, an appreciable group of musicians. However, the larger imprint and the extension that the label was looking for came when they met François Houle, a man whose vision roamed wide. A decision was made to go in for improvised music with a difference, even if it would seem to be far removed from jazz. In a sense it may have been, but it was improvised and did not lack an adventurous spirit. From then on the scope could only broaden. Houle recorded with several musicians who brought in an exciting perspective, among them Marilyn Crispell, Georg Graewe, Joëlle Léandre and Hasse Poulsen.
While Quebec was the takeoff point, Red Toucan subsequently signed artists in Vancouver, thanks to Houle. And sure enough it recorded Peggy Lee and Dylan van der Schyff. But the label did not forge ahead regardless of the consequences. In 1997 it came to a point it termed a crossroad. Red Toucan lay back and reflected over the next 16 months and returned with a resolution to release music from artists who were on the cutting edge of jazz and deserved to be heard. From that commendable purpose came works from bands that had Paul Plimley, Wolter Wierbos, Peter Brötzmann, Mark Whitecage, Achim Kaufmann, John Butcher, Gerry Hemingway, Michael Moore, John Lindberg and Frank Gratkowski. That indeed is a stellar cast!
During this time, Red Toucan has released 25 albums, including Amalgam(e), a compilation of tracks from earlier releases. Of the total 23 are in print, an exceptional number and an indicator of the strength of the records. The first track, “Serious,” from Papasoff is a muscular devolution from the soprano saxophone of Papasoff well countenanced by the linear trumpet of Carroll. Glenn Spearman sets up a taut framework that essays into yowls and screams to “Go Left Out of Shantiville,” from the CD Let it Go, pursued by Lisle Ellis, who shifts resiliency and gives the bass a broader dimension, with James Routhier extending the momentum using sharp lines on the electric guitar. Quite a different bag is stirred by the rumbling piano of Dana Reason on “Border Crossings Part I,” from Border Crossings, that opens up the vent to use space judiciously. There is plenty more; the two disc set comprises 24 selections, including two from Cactus Records, a sibling, so to speak, and devoted to “music of a more composed nature.”
Red Toucan has a creed which is “the necessity of documenting original projects by creative musicians.” Long may this label continue to do so.
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