"I'm still on a mission from God," laughs Steven Joerg, AUM Fidelity frontman. Maybe Lone Ranger would be a more apt descriptor. "Yeah, it's mostly me. That's one of the things that sets the label apartthis really is a one-man operation."
Joerg is always quick to acknowledge the help he has received from others, but the spirit, passion and enthusiasm with which he's helmed the label for nine years is palpable in every word he says. He speaks in joyous cascades, the mention of any release conjuring excited stories and emotional reminiscences. "Well yes, there has been a decided missionary zeal from the beginning. I wanted to bring this profound and relatively unheard music to a wider listening public to enjoy. As far as music goes, these are some of the finest players, composers and bandleaders who exist in the world todaysimple as that!"
The only idea he rejects in our conversation is the idea of a label sound. "That's up to the artistseach artist has their own unique sound and voice." It's a concisely simple but true assessment. Joerg's openness to sound, to the physically and spiritually overwhelming nature of sound and to the sonic possibilities brought to the table by each artist or group he records, is an integral part of what has made each AUM Fidelity release so engaging. It's fairly obvious that "Avant Jazz" has been the label corner stone, but Joerg is insightful on the subtleties of the music, of the multivalence and shapeshifting that have come to define it. "Sure it can seem imposing to somebody who hasn't listened to much music or bird song for that matter. If you play that person a really intense, full-bore passage, they might be turned off; just pick a more gentle, more evidently melodic passage and it will be impossible for them to deny the power and beauty of that listening experience. I mean: rhythm, melody, harmony; carbon, oxygen, hydrogenyou know?!"
Such a mixture of pragmatics and philosophy has remained at the heart of Joerg's vision, a vision which allowed for the 1997 release of David S. Ware's Wisdom of Uncertainty. It's an extremely bold statement for a first release, losing none of its power and vitality nine years after the fact. The disc has all the intensity and beauty of creative improv at its best; given that this year's Vision Festival will see the quartet's last US performance, it seems appropriate to highlight a label that released some of its best work.
Joerg has long supported the Vision Fest, serving as publicist and graphic designer from 1997-2000. His commitment to the festival is evidenced on Vision One, a two-disc compilation of material recorded there in 1997 which, happily, will be rereleased and ready for the merch table at this year's proceedings. Just as important, though, is the fact that many of the artists with whom he's working came to his attention through the festival, notably Kidd Jordan. "I first heard Kidd play at Vision Fest and over the next few years I kept mentioning to him that I wanted to make a trio record with himself, William [Parker] and Hamid [Drake]. When I said the same to him last June, he said 'We better do this soon.' And he was right!"
Joerg's long-fostered hope for the project finally paid off, but the disasters associated with Hurricane Katrina almost ended it before it started. "I couldn't get hold of Kidd on the phone for almost a week after the storm. He and his wife had gotten out prior to the levee break on that early Monday morning. His son Marlon [a professional trumpeter, and one of several musical siblingsincluding flutist Kent and vocalist Stephanie] was one of many stranded on a rooftop that week. When I finally reached him he had just gotten word that Marlon was safe in a Birmingham hospital, and, in answer to being able to make the session in Brooklyn three weeks later he replied, 'yeah man, let's do it!.'"
The Jordan/Parker/Drake trio disc, Palm of Soul, is only one of three exciting releases to be hitting the streets early this summer. Following in this label's tradition of diversity, we'll hear Afro-Mayan improv, courtesy of William Parker's Long-Hidden: The Olmec Series: an integral part of this release involves Parker playing solo on the West African doson ngoni (hunter's guitar), but the rest is a fascinating mixture of what might be called authentic 'American' music, simultaneously encompassing everything from jazz to Merengue. We'll also be treated to Roy Nathanson's brand of wisely humorous storytelling on Sotto Voce; hiphop forming an integral part of the brew via singer/beatboxer Napoleon Maddox.