“ Everything started with Elton Dean. If I hadn't connected with him, maybe I wouldn't be doing this now. ”
Leonardo Pavkovic is a looming presence on the ever-expanding scene of polynational, polymusical globe-gobbling. Some might deem his MoonJune Records operation a special home for European prog rock, but this is only one aspect of its makeup. "MoonJune is a label for progressive music," he announces, holding court, at an Egyptian kebab cafe in Astoria. "Whatever that progression means. It can be rock, jazz, global or avant-garde or any kind of music. I'm a huge fan of progressive rock, but also of blues and jazz."
The divisions between such categories are even harder to discern once they've been propelled through the mincer of general progressiveness. There's an ongoing, bouncing feedback between rock 'n' roll, freeform jazz, modern classical and hardcore ethnic sounds, creating a post '60s fusion whose followers can easily recognize but rarely agree to define.
Pavkovic's varied background begins with his birth in the Bosnian region of former Yugoslavia, with frequent visits to Italy leading to his full residence in its southern parts from 1983. Studying at the University Of baritone, Pavkovic's grasp of five languages was eventually going to be a massive help in his international tour-booking strategies.
"I started by pure accident, in the late '80s. I helped out a couple of my friends, [trumpeter] Pino Minafra and [saxophonist] Vittorino Curci. I was taking Europa Jazz Festival artists from the airport to the hotel." This was Pavkovic's first glimpse of the backstage mechanics of the music business. In 1990, he moved to New York, working as a dishwasher and then joining the team at Studio T, which was created by the photographer and graphic artist Fernando Natalici in the mid '70s. Here, Pavkovic also met publicist Jim Eigo, who was one of the studio's main clients for music graphics. The three of them soon formed the short-lived Jazz Magnet Records and by the time of its collapse, they'd released nine albums.
"In 2000, I met [Soft Machine saxophonist] Elton Dean," says Pavkovic, reminiscing over his sizzling dish of lamb cheek. "MoonJune had started as a website, a tribute to Soft Machine. I thought, this is a great name for a label. Everything started as a coincidence in 2001. Everything started with Elton Dean. If I hadn't connected with him, maybe I wouldn't be doing this now." The label's name derives from the "Moon In June" song, from Soft Machine's 1970 Third album. It was the Soft Works reunion combo in 2002 that garnered a distribution deal with Japanese music producer Masa Matsuzaki. "In one single shot, all doors to the Japanese music industry opened to me through this one contact." So, Pavkovic assembled the starry touring and recording lineup of Soft Works, featuring Dean, guitarist Allan Holdsworth, bassist Hugh Hopper and drummer John Marshall. Even at this stage, he was still improvising. "Certain things I did by intuition, others by asking people what to do."
Pavkovic will soon have 30 records in his catalogue, including titles by Soft Machine Legacy, Italian prog rockers DFA and The Wrong Object, a quintet of jazz-rock individualists from Belgium, who have identifiable Frank Zappa influences, but translated into a fresh language. There are also albums by the Delta Saxophone Quartet, Phil Miller's In Cahoots and the Alex Maguire Sextet. The tour-booking side of MoonJune represents Allan Holdsworth, Soft Machine Legacy, DFA, Chad Wackerman, among many other acts.
Pavkovic's latest batch of issues perfectly illustrate the label's high quality and its marked diversity. A hitherto sparsely documented lineup of Soft Machine features on Drop, recorded live during their 1971 tour of Germany. Keyboardist Mike Ratledge is heard in his most granite-crumbling state, alongside the writhing saxophone solos of Dean, these two joined by Hopper and drummer Phil Howard, whose tenure lasted for a mere five months, between founding member Robert Wyatt and longtime participant John Marshall. It's a Soft's version that's pared down to a particularly powerful, confrontational core.
Set for release next month, simakDialog's Demi Masa is the latest manifestation of Pavkovic's interest in the music of South East Asia. The band's main man is the Indonesian keyboardist and composer Riza Arshad, who combines Western Fender Rhodes piano fusion moves with a gamelan-inspired percussion weave. The June issue of Protoplasmic will swerve in yet another unpredictable direction. It's set to be MoonJune's most extreme disc so far, a completely improvised meeting between New York guitarist Elliott Sharp and the Italian singer and self-sampler Boris Savoldelli. This session grew out of the pair's excellent gig at The Stone late last September. The recorded combination is equally exciting, but with the bonus of increased stereo tinkering of their various electro-acoustic real-time effects. Sharp jumps from electric sludge to acoustic harp impersonations, while Savoldelli is by turns choirboy and Satanic messenger.
Ultimately, the energetic Pavkovic is defiantly optimistic in the shadow of today's economy. "In the '90s, sales worked very well in the music business. When I started the label in 2001, everything was beginning to change." Fortunately, his infrastructure was in place just in time, as MoonJune began in the 'previous dimension.' "I found my niche and found my way of surviving. I understand the difficulties and I've adapted. I've found the demographic, the people that want to buy this music."