Cuneiform Records: Growing Progressive Music for 27 Years

Cuneiform Records: Growing Progressive Music for 27 Years
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Twenty seven years is a long time for a niche progressive music label such as Cuneiform Records not just to survive, but to remain inventive and, in the best sense, ambitious. Steve Feigenbaum founded Cuneiform back in 1984, and with his wife, Joyce, runs it from Silver Springs, Maryland. Hosting bands such as Universe Zero, digging up and releasing archival material from groups such as Soft Machine
Soft Machine
Soft Machine

band/orchestra
, releasing consecutive double CDs from avant-garde jazz heroes such as trumpeter Wadada Leo Smith
Wadada Leo Smith
Wadada Leo Smith
b.1941
trumpet
, Cuneiform brags an impressive and eclectic roster of historic and contemporary artists.

Cuneiform has expanded its reach over the years: its sweep now runs from England's Canterbury scene of the late 1960s and early 1970s to the contemporary downtown scene in New York City. Despite the decline in CD sales in the creative music marketplace, Feigenbaum maintains enthusiasm for unearthing lost or undiscovered musical treasures and producing new releases. He works with creative artists who want to release their music with someone who advocates for them as both a fan and as a business person, and who can promote them effectively. Living only a mile from the office, Feigenbaum maintains a hands on approach to his work.

Cuneiform showcases its artists with two mini festivals in November 2011. The first, "Cuneifest," will be held in Baltimore over two days: November 19 at Orion Sound Studios being "Rock Day" (featuring artists such as Hamster Theater, Upsilon Acrux and Zevious
Zevious

band/orchestra
), and November 20 at An Die Musik being "Jazz Day" (featuring artists such as The Claudia Quintet + 1, Positive Catastrophe and Ideal Bread).

The second festival, "Cuneiform At The Stone," lets the label play curator for Stone owner and avant-iconic musician, reed player John Zorn
John Zorn
John Zorn
b.1953
sax, alto
, whose club is located in the Lower East Side of NYC. A blend of both the rock and jazz acts on the label will appear between November 15-30; the rolling bill includes jazz legends such as trombonist Roswell Rudd
Roswell Rudd
Roswell Rudd
b.1935
trombone
, playing with Ideal Bread, and younger innovators such as pianist Jason Moran
Jason Moran
Jason Moran
b.1975
piano
playing with Ergo. Fusion enthusiasts will have a chance to hear the Mahavishnu Project playing the music of John McLaughlin
John McLaughlin
John McLaughlin
b.1942
guitar
and the Mahavishnu Orchestra
Mahavishnu Orchestra
Mahavishnu Orchestra
b.1971
band/orchestra
in this intimate setting.

Both festivals are testament to Cuneiform's ability to attract creative artists and to stride into another decade with its trademark robust releases.

Interview with Steve Feigenbaum

All About Jazz: It seems that Cuneiform has made a shift towards jazz over the past few years. Was that a conscious decision?

Steve Feigenbaum: There is absolutely a premeditated move towards jazz. I have always had an interest in jazz personally. I was into the Mothers of Invention and a whole other world of "unpopular music" that I listened to at my local library in Wheaton, Maryland where I grew up. They had a jazz section. They had records like Free Jazz (Atlantic, 1970) by Ornette Coleman
Ornette Coleman
Ornette Coleman
b.1930
sax, alto
, Sunship (Impulse Records, 1965) and Ascension (Impulse Records, 1965) by John Coltrane
John Coltrane
John Coltrane
1926 - 1967
saxophone
, Unit Structres (Blue Note Records, 1964) by Cecil Taylor
Cecil Taylor
Cecil Taylor
b.1929
piano
and three Impulse albums by Charles Mingus
Charles Mingus
Charles Mingus
1922 - 1979
bass, acoustic
and maybe some stuff by Curtis Counce
Curtis Counce
Curtis Counce
1926 - 1963
bass, acoustic
. I was in 8th Grade and I wanted to listen to music that "smart people" listened to or what some might call "weird music." John Coltrane hit an interesting music chord with me with Sunship. I made myself listen to that record. It was what Charles Ives called "stretching your ears." Mingus also hit me in a big way. Again, I was a kid, and then by 14 or 15 I got way into The Muffins. After I actually met them I got way into things like the Canterbury scene.

In the past I felt like I could not compete as a jazz label. The big labels were doing this stuff bigger and better than I was. Now, major labels don't do jazz and or are on their third Charles Mingus reissue. There is just less jazz being released from them. As a result, I am getting offered better and more sellable things, although they are not always the same. Let's say high profile things. The opportunities came and I ran with them. I think jazz is where it is happening now. You see, the dive club rock bands are creating post-punk everything music and I work with some of those guys. In jazz it isn't 1964 anymore and we won't see the Miles Davis
Miles Davis
Miles Davis
1926 - 1991
trumpet
quintet again. They were really great, but it's gone.

Guys like Ken Vandermark
Ken Vandermark
Ken Vandermark
b.1964
saxophone
play the same punk circuit bands in vans play, do it the same way and play for the people. Jazz guys bring it like the punk guys in a very interesting way. Additionally, the jazz press is much more open. Like Downbeat will now take some crazy skronk thing by Marc Ribot
Marc Ribot
Marc Ribot
b.1954
guitar
and treat it like it is all part of the pie. As it was written about sometime back that all of the anti-jazz battles were fought by 1965, and then the jazz young lions came and pretended it was 1965 and did that whole thing again for a while. But now they are not sucking all of the oxygen out of the room anymore.

I listen to demos all day long and for the most part, I have to say, they are really good. There is no shortage of things connecting to people and therefore, in making the shift, I do not have to be overly concerned about quality. There is an endless stream of really talented people out there.

Whether straight jazz or freaky jazz, with two saxophones, drums, bass, maybe a Fender Rhodes, you can play anywhere. If you have extensive equipment requirements then it is limiting and it is also expensive. I saw the Aram Shelton quartet last year and they got lost on the road and they were supposed to play at the club at 9:00pm and they got there at ten minutes of nine. They had been driving all day. These poor guys did not even have a chance to come in and wash their faces and get the road dirt off. I mean, they were a case of two saxophones, bass and drums. I think they were seven minutes late and it took them ten minutes to set up and they played fifty minutes and they were astounding. A group with a lot of stuff can't do that. It makes it harder for them to play out there. Even if their music is unbelievable, it does limit their ability to play in many places live.

AAJ: British bassist and composer jazz great Graham Collier
Graham Collier
Graham Collier
1937 - 2011
composer/conductor
passed very recently. You had released some of his archival live performances on the Workpoints CD. Please tell us about your interest in the English jazz scene.

SF: The "Brit jazz" awareness is because of Soft Machine
Soft Machine
Soft Machine

band/orchestra
and King Crimson. You take guys like Henry Miller and Keith Tippett
Keith Tippett
Keith Tippett
b.1947
piano
who played on King Crimson records, and horn guys like Elton Dean
Elton Dean
Elton Dean
1945 - 2006
saxophone
who had guests on Soft Machine albums who are his band members. So the Brit jazz thing has always been of interest to me and obviously stuff that I have done has been historical. Also obviously I have done the Mujician stuff and they were contemporary and some stuff with Paul Dunmall, which is also contemporary. I had a cassette in my car that someone had given me that had two older unreleased albums. One was the Chris MacGregor trio and the other was by John Surman
John Surman
John Surman
b.1944
saxophone
and I thought, "Hey! I should play this!" The only place I could play a cassette was in a player in an old car. I heard it and I was like, "Man, this is great." I look at the case to see who is playing on it and I see John Marshall and I kind of knew John. I called up John and asked if he had a contact for Surman and he was more than happy to help me with his details. I spoke to Surman and he was so nice that I had to write back to John Marshall and ask if he greased the wheels on that conversation for me, which he did, nicely enough.

The first archival thing I did of the Brit jazz guys was Travelling Somewhere (2004) by Brotherhood of Breath
Brotherhood of Breath
b.1969
band/orchestra
, which was really special and I am pretty proud of all my releases, but except for British people over forty, that was one of the forgotten groups. I think that release that we did of their stuff did not make anybody rich and famous, but it did help re-establish that there were these amazing players making that kind of music. I think that was a nice thing to accomplish. The British jazz thing has always been of interest, and certainly in the 1960s and 1970s there was a very distinct sound and I liked it a lot. I had the opportunity to work with this material. That world is certainly a smaller place, but I have had people come to me and say "Wow, Mike Osborne!" I don't think you would have heard that from someone from the States in 1974, there just weren't that many Mike Osborne aficionados around. We are going to continue that because we are going to do a Michael Gibbs
Michael Gibbs
Michael Gibbs
b.1937
trombone
record in January. Mike has been arranging for conducting the NDR Big Band in the 1990s and into the 2000s. And so it will be a selection of material from the NDR Big Band. Mike is someone I was introduced to by the late Graham Collier. I think Mike played trombone in Graham's first band actually. They go way back.

Now some of the stuff I come across is not just cassettes in my car, but through things like Radio Bremen that has all of these archival things. Some of these Radio Bremen type people are easy to work with, some are difficult to deal with, but some understand that there is a price that will allow this to happen and a price that will make sure it never happens. In all of the cases with that material, you do have to get the artists' permission. They own it and they are the ones that can say yes and make it happen, but they are not going to release it if the artist is not on board. You have to reach these people and get them to say "okay." That's an issue, some of them are bitter, some of them couldn't care less, and I get the occasional "Who are you?" Obviously if you know a few people it helps because I am not buddy buddies with John Surman, but if I knew John was on an archival release of another artist I would feel comfortable enough to reach out and ask, "Hey John, would you mind writing a note to this guy and say that you were pleased with the work we did together?" I mean that helps. It helps that you have relationships with other people.

AAJ: Will we see more releases in the future from Radio Bremen?

SF: Radio Bremen does not have much more that I can do that I want to do. I mean they have a Radio Bremen thing with saxophonist Ornette Coleman
Ornette Coleman
Ornette Coleman
b.1930
sax, alto
, but am I going to try and reach Ornette Coleman? It doesn't seem really likely. The NDR stuff, I mean there isn't that much television stuff and I did two, and I tried to do a couple of others and the artist said "no," and if the artist says no then that's the end of that. Obviously for the audio stuff, I am doing this Michael Gibbs release, so that's good. Now for Radio Bremen audio they actually had a list that they sent to me that had full dates and everything. NDR has no list, but a woman there named Sylvia told me that she can check by artist. In the case of John Surman they have five different things from John Surman and I am looking into it. In some cases it's Surman in a band and he is not the leader.

AAJ: You had some great success with releasing archival music from the Canterbury scene. How did you unearth that material and what kind of cooperation did you receive from the musicians?

SF: The cooperation from the Canterbury Scene came from Hugh Hopper
Hugh Hopper
Hugh Hopper
1945 - 2009
bass, electric
. He was a great man and it was so sad that he died. He was healthy up until the end. Hugh was in touch with everyone he ever played with even if it was just a card. It kind of tells you about the man. It's like a guy who was in three different marriages, but was on good terms with all of the in laws and families and he managed to sort of stay part of each family. That was Hugh. A lot of the material from the Canterbury scene came from him. I love that stuff and it sells really well too, but it really wasn't that big of a scene, but if you look at what we have done, we have done a tremendous amount of stuff. I mean look at Gilgamesh, they were a band that put out two records, and we ended up putting out a record by a band that put out two records, I mean who ever heard of such a thing? Most of it is unreleased material. National Health was a band that put out two or maybe one more posthumous record and I put out a record. With Soft Machine I put out I think like eight records. This is a band that had more than eight records, but you see my point on this. I would certainly like to say I would do more of that stuff and it would certainly make my distributors happy, but I don't know if there is anything else out there or rather anything else out there worth doing. There are some other archival things done out there that were not done by me, which is fine, like with Caravan. Someone got to Pye first. Dave Stewart did a couple of things with Hatfield and the North which I also did not do, but I kind of feel like there is nothing else to do from that scene. The quality stuff has been done. I would love to be "the Canterbury guy," but you have to have other things going on because when that mine goes empty you could be out of a job, so it is important to go after other areas.

AAJ: How did you begin working with Wadada Leo Smith
Wadada Leo Smith
Wadada Leo Smith
b.1941
trumpet
?

SF: Wadada came to me through Henry Kaiser
Henry Kaiser
Henry Kaiser
b.1952
guitar, electric
when they worked together in Yo Miles!. I've known Henry for years. He is a natural chatty guy. Those were all Henry's guys on those releases. After some time, Wadada dropped me a note mentioning that he liked the way we did the Yo Miles! releases and said that he had some other things he was working on and would there be interest and I was like "Sure man!" He told me that he specifically liked the fact that we got records reviewed and we got reviews that he is hoping to see. He's very happy and had decided to give us the higher profile things, which is fine with me. We have contracts and all of our contracts are record by record contracts, so it is fine with me if you do a record with me and then do a record with someone else. I mean if it's a different record I don't care. So I think that he has decided that with the bigger projects that he will give them to us, which is good for him and us. I have a promotions department to pay and we do need the higher profile acts. He has been an avant-garde artist in the real world for a long time, so he knows what to give where. He has a very strong sense of who he is and what he is doing. He's methodical and he's thought it out. The next record we will be doing with Wadada will be a triple record set called Ten Freedom Summers. It's about the civil rights movement in America. It will be by his Golden Quintet and he will be recording it next month and it will be out next May. We are all getting ready for it because we know it will be one of our big releases for next year. The staff love dealing with him because he knows what he wants, but he is kind of funny in a wry way. He appreciates us and let's us know it.

AAJ: How much do you get involved in the audio engineering of the recordings?

SF: I want the records to sound good, but the answer is that I am not Manfred Eicher, I am not in the studio with these guys. I do not choose the studios, but I maintain decent quality. There are eight Soft Machine records that I did with good sound quality for instance, but I am not in a hurry to do a ninth with poor studio quality. I do not want to milk the market. I take what the artist gives me, but I do not have it where I can fly to Norway and use my favorite engineer. I am not dissing on Manfred Eicher. He just has more money than I have and does it the right way. I can't afford to do it that way. I am not sure fans really understand how little this stuff really sells. It's really small. The last few years of digital downloads have not improved things for the label. Although they are an important part of the revenue stream, they do not make up for people just taking the records. When I look at what I used to sell it's just much less. People don't really want to pay for music now. People are just getting free music when they pay their ISP or cell phone bill every month. I used to have catalog items that were steady sellers that I knew that I could sell. Things that were five years old, but they still sold two or three hundred copies a year. I used to have a lot of them, but they just do not sell anymore. It's possible that they have just reached the end of their life, but for all of them to have stopped at the same time makes me think that the people that want to buy it, buy it in the first eighteen months and then after that people they just download it from a blog. So I sell more high profile stuff than I used to, but sell less than I used to.

AAJ: How did your work with Richard Pinhas begin?

SF: When I was a kid in the 1970s, I liked the Heldon records. I started Cuneiform in 1984 and at some point there was the CD reissue boom and he was not in on it. So I got his address somehow and wrote him a letter, this was before the internet. He ignored the letter. So I wrote him another letter a year later and he responded. I went up to New York to meet him because he was in New York for some reason and we met up and made a deal. They sold much less than I thought they would. But, I like Richard and he has always been very appreciative. Now I am not the only person that does this, but every six months the artist gets a check. Pulling three hundred royalty forms is a lot of work, but these guys deserve it and he likes that respect and appreciates it. Richard was out of the music scene for a while and then he got back in and we have been working with him for a while. Those Heldon records are now considered legendary, but he is a guy that does not like to repeat himself. He is always looking to do something different. His duo with Merzbow was interesting. He says for his next record he is not going to use the echo system on his guitar. He's gotten noisier and crazier with his sound as the years go forward.

AAJ: Do you plan any more electronic music projects?

SF: I can't say where it is all going and our place in it, but I go out and see a fair amount of music and I go to a local place where they have guys with laptops doing stuff and some of it is interesting. But I am a big believer in bands. I am not that interested in laptops because when you open your eyes it looks like someone getting very excited about reading their email. I don't see us going the laptop route, but I like seeing them used in the context of a band. Now the new Sao Paulo Underground which features Rob Mazurek
Rob Mazurek
Rob Mazurek
b.1965
cornet
, Tres Cabeças Loucuras, that has electronics in it, it is working with a real band. With pure laptop stuff, it's not much to look at. I like to enjoy what I am seeing. Take improvised music in general; I am not a huge consumer of free improvised music in terms of recordings. Now live I can see how people play off each other. If given a choice for instance to see Evan Parker
Evan Parker
Evan Parker
b.1944
sax, tenor
live or listen to him, I will always choose live. That's where it comes alive for me. Laptop music does not really come alive like that in the same way. Now this might be the future, but it is not where the majority of my personal interests lie. The fact that it is portable and inexpensive, maybe it is the future, but I am fifty, so I am allowed to be stuck in my ways.

AAJ: Has Cuneiform served as a home for bands such as Universe Zero and Mats/Morgan Band that you have been an advocate for? What do you find attracts these niche bands to work with you long term?

SF: Well, there aren't that many Universe Zeros in the world. To keep it in perspective they are a thirty five year old band, so I don't expect them to become something different than what they are. They have invented this sound that other people emulate. There are not a lot of bands like them out there. I love them. I think the last one they did was as good as anything that they have ever done. I would love to do more. Take Miriodor. I have worked with them a long time. We are talking about doing another one together. I don't see a lot of activity on that front. I used to get a lot of demos from bands that sound like they grew up on that music. Those are bands that have severe technical requirements so those types of bands you don't tend to hear from much anymore.

AAJ: Please tell us about this month's live shows in New York and Baltimore promoting Cuneiform artists.

SF: I got an email two and a half years ago from John Zorn
John Zorn
John Zorn
b.1953
sax, alto
, who owns the Stone. It's a great place. The way they run the place is by using curators to book the bands, which is good because that way they don't have to bother John. So now he's having record labels curate, and he asked me to do it and I was glad to do it. It is a nice thing. John is a big player in this field, so it is nice to have him acknowledge our label. His emails have been so nice, he is very helpful. It has been a big congratulation to us. Bands from out of town are coming in. We were asked to do one in Baltimore here, so we will be doing that as a way of saying "Hey, we are still here!"

Artist Testimonials

Before looking at some Cuneiform albums, here are three artist testimonials for the label:

Cuneiform, Steve and Joyce are very old friends now, They are like a second family. We have worked together in a perfect confidence for more than twenty years now, and they really take good care of me and my projects. The interest Steve has in all kinds of music is really incredible. We have played five or six tours in USA since 1999, plus festivals. Cuneiform was always there. I always feel like I am at home in Silver Springs. As long as I am playing, I sincerely hope to carry on working with Cuneiform. It is always a pleasure, a joy. —Richard Pinhas


I don't remember the year, but I think it was around 2002, The Claudia Quintet was playing in Silver Springs. Steve came to the show, introduced himself and asked if we were planning on doing some recording, and if so to let him know. I was vaguely familiar with Cuneiform, enough to say yes. It has been a friendly, fruitful partnership. We email almost daily it seems, either Steve, Joyce (sometimes both) and sometimes Javier or one of their temporary but usually cracker jack interns. But the fact that they respond so quickly and are always trying to help the group is unprecedented in the record label world. They seem to have a system that works and they stick to it and only release music that they like. They are honest and consistent which makes working with them easy, even as the music business is crumbling all around them. Just think what the music world would look like if there were fifty Cuneiforms! —John Hollenbeck


Why I have always liked working with Steve and Joyce at Cuneiform is that they are consummate professionals. They go over every detail with a fine toothcomb to make sure everything is right for the artists and the label. They make sure that they get the CDs to all parts of the world, but of course the main reason it's great to work with Steve and Joyce is because they are really good caring people that love so many different areas of music. They supported the quartet Mujician when no other label was interested. We shall always be grateful to them. —Paul Dunmall


Capsule Reviews

Soft Machine

NDR Jazz Workshop—Hamburg, Germany May 17, 1973

2010

Cuneiform has dug up a fair share of archival live Soft Machine
Soft Machine
Soft Machine

band/orchestra
material for release over the years. NDR Jazz Workshop: Hamburg, Germany May 17, 1973 has a quartet version of the group in transition, plus guests, caught live on CD as well as DVD. Keyboardist Mike Ratledge is the holdover from the "classic" lineup on Third (Sony, 1970). His former band mate, the late bassist Hugh Hopper
Hugh Hopper
Hugh Hopper
1945 - 2009
bass, electric
departed shortly before this recording, but appears on "1983" with the band in a bonus audio feature on the DVD. Roy Babbington, who worked with the group on acoustic bass on some of its previous recordings steps in for his debut as the new prime electric bassist for the Softs. Karl Jenkins
Karl Jenkins
b.1944
asserts himself further as a reed man and keyboardist. John Marshall is a fully gelled with the group by this point as its permanent drummer. For the second half of the performance, Isotope guitarist Gary Boyle and saxophonist Art Themen join the quartet. The group covers a lot of material, primarily from Six (Sony, 1973), and debuts material from the pending Seven (Sony, 1973), which was recorded by this quartet. This group further evolved the music from jazz rock to fusion with tasteful dexterity and well executed chops and riffs.

Brotherhood of Breath

Travelling Somewhere

2001

Travelling Somewhere is a significant archival release by Brotherhood of Breath, one of the most robust modern jazz groups. It was active in the early 1970s and featured South African and English musicians. Chris McGregor was a South African-born pianist, whose first group from that country, Blue Notes, was a racially mixed band with players like drummer Louis Moholo-Moholo, that sought recognition outside of its tense domestic existence. Combining The Blue Notes with musicians met from the London scene, McGregor created a 12 piece group, Brotherhood of Breath
Brotherhood of Breath
b.1969
band/orchestra
with heavy hitters such as Evan Parker
Evan Parker
Evan Parker
b.1944
sax, tenor
on tenor sax, Mike Osborne
Mike Osborne
b.1941
on alto sax, Harry Miller
Harry Miller
b.1941
on bass and Harry Beckett
Harry Beckett
Harry Beckett
1935 - 2010
flugelhorn
on trumpet. Travelling Somewhere is a welcome documentation of the short lived group in Bremen Germany in 1973. The music swings hard with a South African flavor throughout the nine cuts, with ample soloing from all. This is a must-hear for fans of jazz, world music and free jazz.

Wadada Leo Smith

Spiritual Dimensions

2009

Spiritual Dimensions is a two-CD set from avant-garde trumpeter Wadada Leo Smith, including two completely different live sets. The first disc is with his Golden Quinetet, recorded in 2008 in the Lower East Side at the annual Vision Festival Annual. The loose, sparse feel of the set comes from the work of keyboardist Vijay Iyer
Vijay Iyer
Vijay Iyer
b.1971
piano
, bassist John Lindberg
John Lindberg
John Lindberg
b.1959
bass
and drummers Pheeroan AkLaff
Pheeroan AkLaff
Pheeroan AkLaff
b.1955
drums
and Don Moye. The second disc was recorded live several months afterwards in Connecticut, by Wadada Leo Smith's Organic. This is more of an electrified groove-oriented set with multiple electric guitars, two basses, cello and drums and goes deeper into the groove. The one song that can be found on both discs, "South Central L.A. Kulture," is expanded, with all players digging in their heels and pushing Smith to his full potential. Spiritual Dimensions is a must-hear for fans of Smith and the Miles Davis fusion period.

Univers Zero

Univers Zero

2008

The reissue of Univers Zero's first album (originally released in 1977) gives a new and improved version in terms of sound quality. The Belgian chamber rock group founded by drummer Daniel Denis has released its entire back catalogue through Cuneiform. This first album followed several years of the band playing together. The original stamp of Univers Zero's classical meets rock music avant-garde concept, with all of the intricate bassoon and violin work, sounds more like it was captured live at a concert hall as opposed to the basement studio where it was actually recorded. The small group DIY-beyond-Stravinsky vibe is performed with mostly acoustic instruments. Later releases and live performance demands led to electric keyboards creeping in more prominently. The additional live bonus cut, "La Faulx," adds to what was an already stunning debut for this iconic group.

The Ed Palermo Big Band

Take Your Clothes Off When You Dance

2006

Big band leader Ed Palermo believes that the music of Frank Zappa needs to be celebrated and preserved like the music of Duke Ellington, Charles Mingus and Thelonious Monk. Palermo, who is also a saxophonist, composer, and arranger, made it his mission to interpret Zappa's music that lent itself to jazz, and to explore it with more depth with players of his caliber who share his enthusiasm as a fan. Palermo leads 14 musicians through spunky, lyric-less arrangements such as the title track that begs to be danced to (even if it be with clothes on). Arrangements on songs such as "Sleep Dirt" display the focus and complexity of Zappa, beyond his sense of playfulness, which comes right back on "Gumbo Variations." Palermo brings a different take on the master's music in a way that will hopefully be passed on to future big bands.

Mujician

Colours Fulfilled

1998

Improvised English jazz music took several steps forward in 1988 when four respected practitioners—pianist Keith Tippett
Keith Tippett
Keith Tippett
b.1947
piano
, saxophonist Paul Dunmall
Paul Dunmall
Paul Dunmall
b.1953
saxophone
, bassist Paul Rogers and drummer Paul Rogers—formed the quartet, Mujician. In 1998 it recorded its first studio album, Colours Fulfilled, with English saxophonist and improv master Evan Parker
Evan Parker
Evan Parker
b.1944
sax, tenor
as producer. Colours Fulfilled plays out in four separate parts that range from joyful cacophony to subtle moments where it sounds as if Tippett was back putting the melodic finishing touches to another early 1970s King Crimson piece. Dunmall uses several different axes throughout the recording to get his rather direct point across, including opening the album with bagpipes. This is essential listening for fans of anglo free jazz improv.

The Claudia Quintet + 1 featuring Kurt Elling and Theo Bleckmann

What Is the Beautiful?

2011

The Claudia Quintet is the prime modern jazz ensemble led by drummer and composer John Hollenbeck
John Hollenbeck
John Hollenbeck
b.1968
drums
. On What is Beautiful? , he celebrates the work of poet Ken Patchen by adding vocalists Theo Bleckmann
Theo Bleckmann
Theo Bleckmann

vocalist
and Kurt Elling
Kurt Elling
Kurt Elling
b.1967
vocalist
along with pianist Matt Mitchell. Jazz meets poetry has been a tradition since the 1950s, and Ken Patchen has inspired several generations of artists. The accordion and vibes of Ted Reichman and Matt Moran, in addition to Mitchell's piano, are the dreamy, empathetic accompanying instruments that perfectly support the prose, but it is the intricate playing by Hollenbeck, clarinetist and saxophonist Chris Speed, and bassist Drew Gress
Drew Gress
Drew Gress
b.1959
bass
that keep this a contemporary and challenging affair. The vocalists use different phrasings and styles throughout the disc—from Elling's mood setting opener, "Showtime/23rd Street Runs into Heaven," to Bleckman's self dueling narrative on "Job." It is the Claudia Quintet itself that puts an original stamp on the music. It is one of the finest working groups on the scene today.


Mother Mallard's Portable Masterpiece Co.

1970-73

1998

Keyboard and synthesizer players, David Borden, Steve Drews and Linda Fisher were the core members of Mother Mallard's Portable Masterpiece Company. 1970- 73 is a collection of previously unreleased recordings. The music is heavily indebted to the technology of the late Robert Moog, creator of the Moog synthesizer. The music appears to be way ahead of its time, but actually is very much of a time when synthesizer experimentation was on the rise. "Ceres Motion" has textures that electronica groups such as the Chemical Brothers are currently using on their CDs and film soundtracks. There was much interest from listeners for live performances from the group during this time. Although the group as a whole dissolved, David Borden continued on with his brand of minimalism on other solo releases on Cuneiform.

Curlew

A Beautiful Western Saddle

2010

A Beautiful Western Saddle by the downtown NYC jazz group Curlew, first released in 1993, was reissued in 2010 with a DVD of two different live performances of material from the same album from the same time period, the first at the city's Knitting Factory and the other at D.C. Space in Washington D.C.. Leader and composer, saxophonist George Cartwright
George Cartwright
George Cartwright

saxophone
arranges this music for his five piece group around the poems of the late Paul Haines. Vocalist Amy Denio brings the words to life in complex, alternative rock meets art house jazz arrangements. Curlew is one of the key bands to define the Knitting Factory scene alongside groups such as Naked City and Last Exit. While A Beautiful Western Saddle is probably not the best yardstick by which to judge the full instrumental prowess of this outfit, it is certainly an ambitious work, unlike any other music of its time, and still maintains a sense of relevance.

Sao Paulo Underground with Rob Mazurek

Tres Cabeças Loucuras

2011

Cornet player Rob Mazurek
Rob Mazurek
Rob Mazurek
b.1965
cornet
never disappoints when journeying into new territory. Mazurek, the sonic heir to Bill Dixon
Bill Dixon
Bill Dixon
1925 - 2010
trumpet
, appears on Sao Paulo Underground's CD Tres Cabeças Loucuras. Different from the work he does with his groups Exploding Star Orchestra
Exploding Star Orchestra
Exploding Star Orchestra

band/orchestra
and Chicago Underground, the music touches on two different fronts: the aural beauty of Brazilian tropicalismo and a deeper use of laptop electronics. Loops and samples are abundant through the recording and blend with the hints of samba and bossa nova dropped by Mauricio Takara and Guilherme Granado, who also play percussion and keyboards. Vibraphonist Jason Adasiewicz
Jason Adasiewicz
Jason Adasiewicz

vibraphone
, drummer John Herndon and electric bassist Matthew Lux contribute to a track or two, but the real voice that shines through is Mazurek's. Tres Cabeças Loucuras adds something new to the world music as well as experimental music space.

Richard Pinhas and Merzbow

Rhizome

2011

French progressive rock and electronic music master and Heldon founder Richard Pinhas teams up with long time Japanese "noise" musician Masami Akita aka 'Merzbow' for a second release for Cuneiform. Recorded live in 2010, Pinhas and Merzbow use this performance to expand their brand of the experimental guitar and ambient soundscape blueprint created by Robert Fripp and Brian Eno in the 1970s. Pinhas' meditative, sustained guitar lines come through loud and clear despite delay and treatment. Merzbow exploits laptop-centric tones and plays sonic foil to Pinhas, moving between atonal challenge and melodic empathy. Also included in this release is a bonus DVD of footage from the concert itself and a code to download another live release, Paris 2008, by the duo.


Bill Laswell, Raoul Bjorkenheim, Morgan Ågren

Blixt

2011

Blixt is the first studio release from a power trio comprised of bassist and producer extraordinaire Bill Laswell
Bill Laswell
Bill Laswell
b.1955
bass
, Finnish guitar hero Raoul Bjorkenheim
Raoul Bjorkenheim
Raoul Bjorkenheim
b.1956
guitar
and fusion drummer Morgan Ågren, half of the group Mats/Morgan Band. The music ranges from hard rock-laced riffs with pounding bass and drums (the opener, "Black Whole") to dreamier, introspective, jazzier passages more akin to Jeff Beck
Jeff Beck
Jeff Beck
b.1944
guitar
. All three players deftly improvise live in the studio around original structures created since their first live gig together in September 2010. There is a sense of primal release in the attack of Laswell and Ågren around the fresh metallic chops of Bjorkenheim. More than a jam, Blixt documents a welcome collaboration between three kindred spirits who will hopefully continue their incendiary musical conversation.


Mats/Morgan Band

Live

2011

Mats/Morgan Band is a Swedish group headed up by two Frank Zappa
Frank Zappa
Frank Zappa
1940 - 1993
guitar, electric
acolytes, keyboardist Mats Öberg and drummer Morgan Ågren. Live captures the quintet at Club Fasching in Stockholm back in 1999 for eleven long form pieces. The music is a collision of progressive rock, fusion, jazz rock and funk. The combination of drums, bass, guitar and three keyboards arms the group to move across an instrumental music spectrum that contains chops reminiscent of Zappa ("Hollmervalsen"), Emerson, Lake & Palmer
Emerson, Lake & Palmer
Emerson, Lake & Palmer

band/orchestra
("Ta Ned Trasen") and others, to the dropping beats of the likes of George Clinton ("Min Hast"). The intricat,e frantically paced rhythm section is the engine that fuels the keyboards to take a ferocious lead on the closer, "Kintornen," eventually exiting with pensive solo piano. This is a good CD to start your inspection of Mats/Morgan Band.

Tracks and Personnel

NDR Jazz Workshop—Hamburg, Germany May 17, 1973

Tracks: CD: Fanfare; All White; Link1/Link2; 37 ½; Link 3; Riff; Down the Road; Link 3a; Stanley Stamp's Gibbon Album; Chloe and the Pirates; Gesolreut; E.P.V.; Link 4; Stumble; One Across; Riff II. DVD: Fanfare; All White; Link1; The Soft Weed Factor; Link2; 37 ½; Link 3; Riff; Stanley Stamp's Gibbon Album; Chloe and the Pirates; Gesolreut; E.P.V.; Link 4; Stumble; One Across; Riff II; 1983 (bonus audio only); Encore Improvisation/Stumble Reprise (bonus audio only).

Personnel: Roy Babbington: bass; Karl Jenkins: oboe, soprano saxophone, tenor saxophone, recorded piano, electric piano, piano; John Marshall: drums; Mike Ratledge: electric piano, organ; Gary Boyle: guitar (CD#7-16, DVD#1-16, 18); Art Themen: soprano and tenor saxophones (CD#7-16, DVD#1-16, 18); Hugh Hopper: bass and tapeloops (DVD#17).

Travelling Somewhere

Tracks: MRA; Restless; Ismite is Might; Kongi's Theme; Wood Fire; The Bride; Travelling Somewhere; Think of Something; Do It.

Personnel: Harry Beckett: trumpet; Marc Charig: trumpet; Mongezi Feza: trumpet; Nick Evans: trombone; Malcolm Griffiths; trombone; Mike Osborne: alto saxophone; Dudu Pukwana: alto saxophone; Evan Parker: tenor saxophone; Gary Windo: tenor saxophone; Chris McGregor: piano; Harry Miller: bass; Louis Moholo: drums.

Spiritual Dimensions

Tracka: CD1: Al-Shadhili's Litany of the Sea: Sunrise; Pacifica; Umar at the Dome of the Rock, Parts 1 & 2; Crossing Sirat; South Central L.A. Kulture. CD2: South Central L.A. Kulture; Anglela Davis; Organic; Joy: Spiritual Fire: Joy.

Personnel: Wadada Leo Smith: trumpet; Vijay Iyer: piano and synthesizer (CD1); John Lindberg: bass (CD1); Pheeroan Aklaff: drums; Don Moye: drums (CD1); Michael Gregory: electric guitar (CD2); Brandon Ross: electric guitar (CD2); Nels Cline: 6 and 12 string electric guitars (CD2); Lamar Smith: electric guitar (CD2#1, 4); Okkyung Lee: cello (CD2); Skuli Sverrisson: electric bass (CD2); John Lindberg: acoustic bass (CD2).

Univers Zero

Tracks: Ronde; Carabosse; Doctor Petiot; Malaise; Complainte; La Falux (bonus track). Personnel: Michel Berckmans: bassoon, oboe (6); Daniel Denis: drums, percussion (1- 5); Marcel Dufrane: violin (1-5); Christian Genet: bass (1-5); Patrick Hannapier: violin, viola (1-5), pocket cello (1-5); Emmanuel Nicause: harmonium (1-5), spinet (1-5); Roger Trigaux: guitar, harmonium (6); Guy Segers: bass (6), vague rumblings (6), interstellar chaotic speech (6).

Take Your Clothes Off When You Dance

Tracks: RDNZL; Take Your Clothes Off When You Dance; Dwarf Nebula Processional March & Dwarf Nebula; Pound For A Brown On The Bus; Sleep Dirt; Gumbo Variations; Mom And Dad/Oh No; Moggio.

Personnel: Ed Palermo: alto saxophone; Paul Adamy: electric bass; Bob Quaranta: piano; Ray Marchica: drums; Ted Kooshian: organ, synthesizer; Cliff Lyons: alto saxophone, clarinet; Phil Chester: alto and soprano saxophone, flute; Bill Straub: tenor saxophone, clarinet; Ben Kono: tenor saxophone, clarinet; Barbara Cifelli: baritone saxophone; Charles Gordon, Joe Fiedler, Matt Ingman: trombone; Ronnie Buttacavoli, John Hines: trumpet; Carl Restivo: guitar, vocals; Dave Riekenberg: tenor saxophone; Emedin Rivera: percussion.

Colours Fulfilled

Tracks: Part 1; Part 2; Part 3; Part 4.

Personnel: Paul Dunmall: reeds; Paul Rogers: double bass; Keith Tippett: piano; Tony Levin: drums.

What Is the Beautiful?

Tracks: Showtime/23rd Street Runs into Heaven; The Snow is Deep On the Ground; Mates For Life; Job; Do Me That Favor; Flock; What Is the Beautiful?; Beautiful You Are; Peace Of Green; The Bloodhounds; Limpidity Of Silences; Opening the Window.

Personnel: John Hollenbeck: drums, percussion, keyboard; Ted Reichman: accordion; Chris Speed: clarinet, tenor saxophone; Matt Moran: vibraphone; Drew Gress: acoustic bass; Matt Mitchell: piano; Kurt Elling: voice (1, 4, 7, 10, 12); Theo Bleckmann: voice (2, 5, 8, 11).

1970-73

Track Listing: Ceres Motion; Cloudscape For Peggy; Music; Train; Easter.

Personnel: David Borden: keyboards; Steve Drews: keyboards; Linda Fisher: keyboards.

A Beautiful Western Saddle

2010

Tracks: CD: Let's Sit Right Down/The Passing; Such Credentials as Have Become Pseudonym; Poem for Gretchen Ruth; All's Well that Ends; Peking Widow; The Prince; What is Free to a Good Home?; Still Trying; Breakfast; Today; Song Sung Long; Human Weather Words; Now Can You Tell Me or Can It Still Be Told?, Paint Me!. DVD: Saint Dog; Rudders; Moonlake; Gary Brown; Jim (to the James River); Saint Croix; Gimme; To the Summer in Our Hearts; It Must Be a Sign; The Hardwood; Today; Paint Me!, What is Free to a Good Home?, Now Can You Tell Me or Can It Still Be Told?, The Prince, Poem for Gretchen Ruth, Such Credentials as Have Become Pseudonym, To the Summer in Our Hearts, The Hardwood.

Personnel: George Cartwright: tenor saxophone, alto saxophone, voice; Tom Cora: cello, voice; Davey Williams: guitar; Ann Rupel: bass, voice; Pippin Barnett: drums; Amy Denio: voice.

Tres Cabeças Loucuras

Tracks: Jagoda's Dream; Pigeon; Carambola; Colibri; Just Lovin'; Lado Leste; Six Six Eight; Rio Negro.

Personnel: Rob Mazurek: cornet electronics, voice; Mauricio Takara: cavaquinho, drums, percussion, electronics, voice; Guilherme Granado: keyboards, loops, samplers, percussion, voice; Richard Ribeiro: drums, voice; Kiko Dinucci: guitar, voice; Jason Adasiewicz: vibraphone (5, 7); John Herndon: drums (5, 7); Matthew Lux: bass guitar (7).

Rhizome

Tracks: Rhizome 1; Rhizome 2; Rhizome 3; Rhizome 4; Rhizome Encore.

Personnel: Merzbow: laptop; Richard Pinhas: guitar and loop system.

Blixt

Tracks: Black Whole; Moon Tune; Tools; Cinque Rroulettes; Shifting Sands; Closing Hour; Ghost Strokes; Invisible One; Drill Bits; Storm; 4-4-4-4-2-2-2-5-2.

Personnel: Raoul Bjorkenheim: guitar; Bill Laswell: bass; Morgen Agren: drums.

Live

Tracks: Hollmervalsen; En schizofrens dagbok; Ta ned trasan; Jigsaw variations; Guardian pitch; Paltsug; Etage; Min häst; Banned again; Igloo; Kintörnen.

Personnel: Mats Oberg: keyboards; Morgan Agren: drums; Jimmy Agren: guitar; Tommy Thodsson: bass; Eric Carlsson: keyboards; Robert Elvsson: keyboards.


Photo Credit
All Photos: Courtesy of Cuneiform Records

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