Resonance Records: Non-Profit Jazz Label with a Mission
It's a story often heard before: musically, these are the best and worst of times. Only this time, in 2010, it seems different. Even as the pool of fresh talent expands, jazz continues to witness a dearth of venues along with the slump in CD sales. Uncounted numbers of talented musicians, young and otherwise, are reduced to playing in venuesif they can find onefor the door and pocket change. Simultaneously, they are recording, producing and hawking their own CDs; often using them like calling cards, to swap with other musicians or to drop off at nursing homes and civic centers with increasingly faint hopes they'll be listened to.
The festival scene is certainly alive throughout the world, with jazz often welcomed as a "safe" alternative to hazardous, messy rock-fests or stuporous exhibitions of high culture. But like the aspiring young author who can't get published without an agent and who can't get an agent without being a published author, the festivals tend to be incestuous, closed circuits, unwilling to risk money on untested talent or, especially, on performers of insufficient renown to guarantee significant ticket sales and gate activity in advance.
In retrospect, the 1990s can be seen as representing a cheering resurgence of interest in mainstream jazz, with major labels like Sony (Columbia), Universal (Verve) and EMI (Blue Note) investing hundreds of thousands in seminal reissues as well as producing a continual stream of albums by deserving new artists, all of it culminating in Ken Burns' remarkable PBS series on the history of jazz. But who could foresee what was just around the corner for the music? With the new millennium came not only a faltering economy but a sea change in consumers' listening habits, along with disappearing profits in the music business and seemingly irreparable damage to the art itself.
Clearly these are tough times calling for unusual leadership. A courageous soul has recently stepped forward in the person of George Klabin, the President of the Rising Jazz Stars Foundation and pro-active head of the new, Los Angeles-based jazz label, Resonance Records, billed on its website as "A Non-Profit Jazz Label with a Mission." Given the present abundance of small, independent recording studios and the "democratization" of music production (by now, doesn't everyone have Garage Band or their favorite DAW on their laptop along with a decent Shure microphone or two?), readers unfamiliar with Resonance Records and its visionary leader may be inclined to dismiss the news of the fledgling label as of little import to the music in general or to themselves personally.
That could be a big mistake. Klabin's credits go back to the 1960s and 1970s, when he was partial owner of one of the best-equipped studios in New York City and partly or fully responsible for recordingoften supervising and engineeringsessions by artists such as singer James Brown (five albums altogether), trumpeter Thad Jones' and drummer Mel Lewis' Big Band, pianists Bill Evans' and Keith Jarrett's trios, saxophonists Albert Ayler, Charles Lloyd, Dexter Gordon and Sonny Stitt, and a number of releases for Strata East, trumpeter Charles Tolliver's jazz collective organization's label, which recorded one of the inarguable masterworks of the 1970s, saxophonist Clifford Jordan's Glass Bead Games (Harvest Song, 2006).
Resonance Records President George Klabin
With Resonance Records, the idealistic yet savvy Klabin is once again committed to recording and producing the artists he believes inunder optimal conditions and using state-of-the-art equipment, while paying attention to critical details ranging from full-scale orchestrations, rehearsal time sufficient to assure a polished result, programs and repertory with the prospective listener as much as the creative artist in mind, even album notes written by recognized authorities in the field. But with the perspicacious, decisive Klabin nothing is as perfunctory as anything suggested by the preceding. From the words he shared here as well as the interview on his website, two primary goals for his present dream child, Resonance Records, emerge: aesthetically, to "capture brilliant and passionate, magical moments that rise above the average jazz heard on most CDs" and, on a more personal level, to be that missing agent for those deserving artists who simply had not received that serendipitous break, leading to proper publication and promotion of their best work.
Rather than a mere technological wizard serving the practical needs of already established names in the field, Klabin is a far more hands-on musical arbiter than most producers, not to mention recording engineers, and is fully involved in the selection of artists and their supporting personnel as well as program material. Besides being open to undiscovered talent, he knows what music he wants to recordfrom styles and idioms to specific composers and songs. Most importantly, at least for the artists chosen to appear on a Resonance release, Klabin is continually keeping his ears open for exceptional talent (the "cream of the crop," he has said), outstanding but largely unrecognized or underrated artists whom he believes in strongly enough to invest his considerable resources in recording and producing.
The resources at his disposal comprise not merely cutting-edge recording equipment (which Klabin's early experiences, beginning with two-track recording in the 1960s, enable him to employ toward the end of the warm sound and natural presence associated with the best analog and "live" recordings), but a well- maintained seven-foot Fazioli grand piano along with optimal studio conditions that make the "commodity" of time a secondary consideration to the music itself. In addition, Klabin is keenly aware of the potential of high definition video and to that end is acquiring the equipment for professionally produced DVDs while already making available, at least with select CDs, supplementary and complementary DVDs as part of the handsome packaging distinguishing a Resonance release.
If the bonus to followers of the music is not yet apparent, it will be upon entering the label's website. Not only does Resonance provide generous samples of recorded tracks, but it goes the extra mile, ensuring the ready availability of photos and videos of the performers as well as offering free downloads of entire tracks from the foundation's 19 (and counting) albums. If it's not yet clear what distinguishes this indie label from the rest of the pack, the curious need to direct their attention back to the brains and heart of the operation, Klabin himself, whose fascinating and eventful story, though well-covered on the Resonance site, deserves some additional highlighting.
Resonance Records recording artist Claudio Roditi
In brief, Klabin's take on recent jazz history, and even his choice of role models, is at variance from many of the accounts that have passed for "received wisdom" since the 1980s. He views the 1970s, a decade when he was extremely active in the field of jazz recording, not as an electronic musical wasteland favoring fusion over more traditional or mainstream jazz, but as one of the most dynamic and productive times for the music. Following from this point of view is special praise set aside for producer Creed Taylor and his once maligned (by many mainstream followers) CTI records, which for Klabin represented a practically exemplary, golden period for the music rather than the sell-out to flagrant commercialism portrayed by others.
In 1981 Klabin would sell out his interest in his biggest and busiest music studioon New York's 46th street and in a space formerly occupied by Capitol Records before Klabin, along with violinist Harry Lookofsky, took up residence in 1973. Though he would remain away from the "business" of jazz for over 20 years, he now looks back on the early years preceding his sabbatical with justifiable satisfaction. It was a vibrant time when he was producing "the very first multi-track digital recordings in the world" while hosting labels such as ENJA, ECM and A&M as well as making his studio available for regular visits from Japanese engineers who had come to NYC to record their favorite American artists. But ironically the digital technology that had at first helped distinguish his recordings became a liability with the sudden proliferation of small private production studios and the drastic undercutting of the rates required to run a first-class operation. Moreover, Klabin saw the rise of "smooth jazz" as a threat both to mainstream and to the discovery and documentation of new, potentially seminal jazz voices such as thoseJarrett, trumpeter Freddie Hubbard, pianist Herbie Hancock, vibraphonist Gary Burtonhe had once produced and recorded prior to their acquiring international renown.
But the lessons he had learned were invaluable, staying with him until he would move to the L. A. area and in 2005 start the Rising Jazz Stars Foundation, and along with it Resonance Records. With the latter, Klabin is convinced that his years of engineering in the 1960s and 1970s will serve him well: "I know how to get the best out of a jazz musician," he insists. "First by careful song selection...choosing songs that have enough chordal and harmonic interest so that the musicians can create interesting solos." In making those choices, he reveals some suspicion of originals, especially if the primary reason for recording them is publishing revenues or the placation of the artist's ego. If the visitor to the website observes that a number of Resonance releases do in fact have programs with no small number of originals, this material no doubt first met with Klabin's approval as songs that would be as much in the public's as the composer's or performing artist's interest.