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Record Label Profiles

Nagel Heyer Records

By Published: September 28, 2004
The 26th of August marked twelve years since the Nagel Heyers: Frank, Sabine and Hans, celebrated George Gershwin's birthday. They did so with a concert that featured improvisational interpretations of some of "Mr. Music's" most famous tunes. The keepsake recording of that event, with trombonist George Masso, clarinetist Ken Peplowski, tenor man Danny Moss and trumpeter Randy Sandke became Wonderful World of George Gershwin and Nagel Heyer was born. Now close to 200 releases later, Germany based Nagel Heyer is a powerful force as it keeps the classics fresh, redefines the mainstream and promotes a common ground for The Mainstream to Meet the New Music.

Continuing with several tribute concerts to cornetist Bix Beiderbecke, guitarist Eddie Condon and vibraphonist Lionel Hampton, Nagel Heyer quickly developed a niche market for new live recordings of classic jazz pieces. Releases by Sandke's New York Allstars presented the music of Armstrong, Hampton and Basie in a free flowing format that allowed these archetypes room to breathe. Nagel Heyer's forum for musical expression that maintains respect for tradition while affording creativity soon attracted a cadre of younger players eager to become part of the mix, with interesting collaborations the result. Take for example pianist Martin Sasse, whose three releases for the label reveal an exciting bop pianist not afraid to test limits. NYC guitarist Peter Bernstein joins Sasse's trio for exciting post bop excursions on A Groovy Affair that includes the lovely Sasse ballad "Search for Love" and his stimulating "That Modal Thing No. 2". Sasse's newest release, Close Encounter , joins him with another NYC jazz stalwart, alto saxophonist Vincent Herring. Sasse's compositional abilities and his trio's fluidity break down any cultural barriers as Herring impresses on the boppish group effort "Blue Herring" and leads the proceedings "Over the Rainbow" on their melodic variant of the standard.

Altoist Donald Harrison has likewise used Nagel Heyer's ethos while imparting his unique contemporary "nouveau swing" vision. His first effort for the label, Real Life Stories , includes intriguing rhythmic reprises of Dizzy's "A Night in Tunisia", Sonny Rollins' "Oleo" and Paul Desmond's "Take Five". His aptly titled Heroes , goes one better by presenting Harrison's singular style in a trio consisting of real life jazz icons, bassist Ron Carter and drummer Billy Cobham. While Cobham and Carter propel Harrison to scale new postmodern heights on the title cut and "Blues for the New Millennium", Harrison's duets with Carter are superb. Carter's reworking of the breaks in "My Funny Valentine" and the duo's spontaneous "Double Trouble", that takes the changes of "I Got Rhythm" in different directions, gives Harrison the space to show his first class chops.

The global reach of Nagel Heyer is not only evident in its unique collegial partnerships but also in their keen ears for worldwide talent. One such artist is the Oslo based British pianist Roy Powell. His Solace consists of nine self-composed pieces that blend into a gratifying gestalt. It is a work that is best described as a paean to beauty as his Norwegian band mates, bassist Terje Gewelt and drummer Jarle Vespestad, allow Powell to artfully manipulate the mood. Where Solace soothes with its understated elegance, Powell swings on bassist Frode Berg's label debut, Dig It! Berg is a versatile instrumentalist, whether swinging with acoustic passion on "41b"or electrically rocking on "Sir Nuke". Tenor saxophonist Petter Wettre holds sway on the ballad "Another Song" and kicks it into overdrive with drummer Andreas Bye on the title cut and Trane's "Giant Steps".

A brass section of NYC based label mates that includes trombonist Wycliffe Gordon, trumpeter Marcus Printup and tenorist Wayne Escoffery continues to redefine the mainstream. Escoffery has come up a winner with his second release, Intuition. He leads a strong quintet consisting of trumpeter Jeremy Pelt and drummer Ralph Peterson through a program that includes swingers and mellower refrains that reveal a player with technical mastery and a soul that belies his years. Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra alum Gordon, boasts four CDs on Nagel Heyer. His first, Slidin Home , is a tour-de-force that displays his ability to make the T-bone snarl, howl and caress as he takes advantage of the instrument's multiple vocal capabilities. His latest, The Joyride , adds tuba, trumpet and piano to his arsenal as he, along with clarinetist/saxman Victor Goines present nine original compositions that touch on a potpourri of styles. Printup, himself an LCJO member, has debuted on Nagel Heyer with a sextet recording, The New Boogaloo. Pairing Gordon with fellow LCJO player, tenorist Walter Blanding gives Printup's originals a full sound. At Nagel Heyer, familiarity continues to breed collaboration as Printup and Gordon have teamed with vibraphonist Joe Locke to join guitarist Melvin Henderson's Paradigm Shift Trio for the soulfully satisfying Shifting Times.

A project that perhaps augurs the boldest direction to date is The Mainstream meets the New Music. Led by Randy Sandke, it places Nagel Heyer stalwarts Ken Peplowski and Wycliffe Gordon in the context of the new music and vice versa. Sandke has enlisted multi saxophonist Scott Robinson and premiere downtown NYC composer/players: pianist Uri Caine, bassist Greg Cohen and reedman Marty Ehrlich, to create an innovative romp through captivating colorations. Billing themselves The Inside Out Jazz Collective, and including a version of Ellington's "Creole Love Call" that takes Duke for a downtown ride, Nagel Heyer has shown that when the Mainstream does meet the new music, the outcome can be a most fulfilling exchange.


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