Resonance Records: Non-Profit Jazz Label with a Mission
Not that Klabin is looking for the low and broad common denominator, such as artistic compromises in the form of highly accessible riffs or repetitious, reductive "hooks" for the sake of greater audience share. As he acknowledges, "Ultimately, this company is a reflection of my own tastes." And he's reasonably confident that, given his experience and access to limitless successful recordings from the past, his tastes happen to coincide with those of a large base of jazz listeners who have become indifferent to much of the new music they've been hearing of latenot the memorable melodies and engaging harmonies characteristic of the best material from the American Songbook and not the lyrical and passionate statements by artists who have as much consideration for their audience as for their own musicianship and technical progress. Perhaps the Creed Taylor influence is especially noteworthy in Klabin's statement that "many musicians, as talented as they are, have little to no sense of the wider audience for this music. They get completely caught up in playing for other musiciansfor their 'buddies.'" Klabin adds, "That's not the kind of jazz we can afford, especially at this time. It's not only a disservice to the potential audience for this music, but in the long run it hurts the aspiring, young musicians themselves."
Resonance Records recording artist Cathy Rocco
Besides repertory, equipment and the importance of a producer's experience and guidance, respect is another theme running through much of Klabin's discourse. First, there's the respect the artist must have for the producer's decisions as well as that which the producer has for the musician, by virtue of choosing to take on an artist he can "believe in"a musician whose "passion and brilliance....will move and excite listeners." Second, is the respect for the music. What counts is not the monetary cost of studio time but the quality of the musicabove all, those shining, magical moments that distinguish a mundane from an exceptional recording. The "good jazz producer," Klabin suggests, is the one who recognizes such moments for what they are. He uses his considerable listening experience (over 40 years in Klabin's case) to know when a recording is "it." That ability to evaluate the best performances of an artist, Klabin maintains, is one of the producer's primary challengesalong with balancing encouragement with objective criticism, and sensing the moment to move on when something isn't working and when to return it.
Asked what distinguishes the "Klabin sound" from that of another professional recording, the veteran producer expressed distaste for on-location, or "live," recordings, especially those that introduce crowd chatter and room ambiance at the expense of the music itself. He made it clear that he prefers closely-miked recordings, performed and captured as flawlessly as humanly possible, and that, even with his many duties as head of the Rising Stars Foundation and Resonance, he would remain closely involved in the details of the recording processas producer and engineerto ensure releases that meet the label's, and his, high standards. But above all it comes back to capturing those "magic moments," and incorporating them into recordings of consistency and distinction. Documenting the artist's legacy through recordings representing the highest level of the musician's ability remains the primary objective at Resonance Records, always secondary to any profit motive.
The tangible rewards, Klabin is convinced, will come of themselves if, even apart from the scintillating new talent on the label, the name "Resonance Records" is eventually seen by listenersfrom newbies to aficionados and, most importantly, festival organizersas a guarantee of the best music and highest production values. Simply appearing on a Resonance recording will amount to an imprimatur, preparing the listener to expect the kinds of unique programs, projects of scale and exceptional performances thatwith today's cost-cutting priorities and widespread streaming of short, profitable internet filesare in increasingly short supply. Of course, it doesn't hurt that Klabin has an embarrassment of riches to work withmusicians who, obscure or not, comprise a killer cast of players.
Resonance Big Band
Pays Tribute to Oscar Peterson
Judging from the 19 releases (and counting) currently (in early 2010) in circulation bearing the Resonance rubric, Klabin would appear well under way toward realizing his dream. Although many have already been reviewed at All About Jazz, some of the projects, even given the remarkable consistency of the catalog, must be considered exceptionally "magical moments" captured under Klabin's guidance and worthy of extra emphasis. Certainly The Resonance Big Band Plays Tribute to Oscar Peterson falls into this category, not simply for the extraordinary performance by pianist Marian Petrescu, who "plays the role" of the late jazz giant, whose virtuosity might at first seem unapproachable, but for the project's production valuesfrom musical arrangements to supporting musicians to well-rehearsed execution to pristine audio reproduction.
As remarkable as is the Romanian pianist's artistrywhich provoked even respected jazz pianist Bill Cunliffe to exclaim, "He's better than Oscar Peterson"is his comparative obscurity in this country. If this recording does nothing more than introduce Petrescu to an audience worthy of his talents (see the video clip following this article), it must be seen as a resonant success. Fortunately, there are signs the album has already caused a stir, leading to Cunliffe himself winning a Grammy award for best arrangement. But Petrescu's and Cunliffe's contributions must be set alongside the equally inventive arrangements of veteran Claus Ogerman (with whom Klabin worked in the mid-1970s) and frequent Resonance contributor Kuno Schmid, whose settings favor the head-spinning pianisms of Petrescu and simultaneously evoke and celebrate the memory of Peterson's genius, through a program of carefully selected Peterson originals along with familiar standards that Klabin sensed would catch the public's attention no less than his own.
Indeed, the recording's very scale distinguishes it from most other current releases. If the major studios haven't abandoned jazz altogether, they're prone to saddle that ever-diminishing part of their catalogs with bare-bones budgets that would never be sufficient to produce, say, singer Shirley Horn's and arranger and composer Johnny Mandel's miraculous collaborative triumph, Here's to Life (Verve, 1992) or to reconstruct Ellington at Newport 1956 (Sony, 1999), one of the costliest and most important reissues before the decline of CD sales.
In the same spirit, Klabin has assembled and covered rehearsal time for a juggernaut band to support Petrescu in a blow-out tribute clearly worthy of Peterson himselfthe Resonance Big Band, which is an 18-member aggregation of some of the best players on the West Coast. Finally, in a take-no-prisoners move practically daring the consumer not to pick up this potentially landmark album, the producer has made it a two-disc package consisting of a CD with 60-plus minutes of music along with a DVD of the proceedings. Some might call it overkill, but with a player as extraordinarily gifted as Petrescu, the extra help might be viewed as essential to dispelling inevitable suspicions of multi-tracking or of similar technical legerdemain that has become commonplace since the proliferation of consumer digital technology.
My Favorite Guitars
Along with Petrescu, Klabin is equally high on the prospects of Swedish guitarist Andreas Oberg, whom he considers "potentially one of the five best guitarists in jazz." Listeners to his Resonance debut, My Favorite Guitars (2008)designed to display the virtuosity of the young, blonde Stockholm nativemay quickly concur with the evaluation of his singular talent and unlimited potential. Having established himself on the festival scene as a player fully at home in the Hot Club tradition of guitarist Django Reinhardt and violinist Stephane Grappelli, My Favorite Guitars reveals a mastery in styles ranging from bebop and bossa nova to hard-driving swing and fusion.
Numerous guitarists acquire reputations for doing certain things wellwhether single-note velocity, playing octaves, negotiating chordal passages or, like the late Wes Montgomery, executing all of those facets with a rich, fat, "fleshly" tone. Oberg seems to have acquired all of these skills by listening attentively to the mastersGeorge Benson, Pat Martino, Pat Metheny and Montgomeryall of whom he pays tribute to on this break-out album, another two-disc package with CD and complementary DVD. As an added inducement, if one is needed, visitors to the Resonance website will have an opportunity to see Oberg performing with the aforementioned piano prodigy, Marian Petrescu.
Two other musicians being served by Klabin's promotional and production resources are veteran trumpeter and flugelhornist Claudio Roditi and pianist, arranger and composer John Beasley. The producer, who has family in Brazil and speaks the language fluently, is strong in his conviction that the former is one of the major voices on his instrument if not in jazz, working to frequent critical acclaim but in relative obscurity since coming to the U.S. in 1970 to study at the Berklee College of Music.
Brazilliance x 4
The neglect the patient and thoughtful, full-toned and warmly melodic Roditi has heretofore experienced (he's been called the present-day Kenny Dorham, the brilliant trumpeter whose last name, jazz critic Gary Giddens once said, is "synonymous with 'underrated'") may be lessening since his first Resonance album, Brazilliance x 4 (2009), closely overseen by Klabin and featuring Roditi in the company of a crack, sympathetic Brazilian rhythm section. The album, which includes four fresh originals by the featured artist along with the Miles Davis/Eddie "Cleanhead" Vinson jazz standard "Tune-Up," has not only received high praise and a Grammy nomination but is already being talked about as a classic of its kind, representing the state of the art in Brazilian jazz of the new millennium.
Roditi's triumph clearly called for a sequel, and a recent Klabin-Roditi project, Simpatico (2010), is a worthy successor but far from a duplication. Employing the same wonderful rhythm section, the latest venture adds, in addition to the trombone of Michael Dease and the guitar of Romero Lumbambo, a scintillating and sensitive arrangement, by Kuno Schmid, of Roditi's exquisite "Slow Fire."
Despite the title of this all-original Roditi program and the expectations of listeners all too familiar with the still-popular Getz/Gilberto (Verve, 1963) blockbuster boss nova album, it's not a misrepresentation to suggest that Sympatico is a frequently grooving album, with the trumpeter as adept at evoking the playfulness of Dizzy Gillespie as the focused intensity of Miles Davis. Especially delightful is the fiery "How Intensitive" (an original with a personality practically opposite to Jobim's "How Insensitive"), and there are welcome bonuses, such as Roditi's picking up a piccolo trumpet (for "Alfitude") and even taking a turn at some pleasant singing (on "Waltz for Joana"). It's no mean feat to maintain the excellence of a truly shining accomplishment like Brazilliance, but Roditi has managed to pull it off, practically guaranteeing the appearance of another offering to complete the hat trick.
Letter to Herbie
John Beasley has the playing, directing, arranging, composing and even producing experiences of industry giants who were active before Beasley had been born. Intent on bringing his talents into sharper, more exclusive focus for a larger audience, Klabin has produced two albums by the multi-talented musician, whose artistry has too frequently been overlooked or constrained because of the overt commercial nature of many of his previous assignments. His first Resonance release, Letter to Herbie, showcases virtually all of Beasley's talents in an inspired ten-song tribute to Herbie Hancock.
For the occasion, the featured performer has assembled a cast of jazz all-stars, including bassist Christian McBride, drummer Jeff "Tain" Watts and trumpeter Roy Hargrove. With such a can't-miss ensemble of creative, innovative musicians, listeners should not expect copycat transcriptions, nor will they receive them. From seven Hancock compositions to Wayne Shorter's "Diani" to two original contributions by the leader, this early entry in the Resonance catalog manages to bring back the infectious magic of its subject's music while calling forth fresh imaginative sparks through reinterpretations and inventive, passionate playing that eschew nostalgia in favor of new-millennium freshness.
Beasley's follow-up release, Positootly!, brings both his compositional and pianistic strengths increasingly to the forefront, with seven originals alongside standards such as Jobim's "Dindi" (a potentially limpid bossa nova piece resuscitated by the hot spices of Beasley's fresh arrangement) and Bobby Timmons' "So Tired," which could describe the state of the listener who can't help but dance to the leader's re-invigoration of the hard-bop classic. As on the Hancock tribute, the cast of musicians for Positootly! is alone likely to attract listeners' interest. Yet the two virtual legends on the datetenor and soprano saxophonist Bennie Maupin and trumpeter Brian Lynchdon't for a moment rest on their laurels, both complementing the composer's conceptions while contributing solo statements that are practically matched stride for stride by the leader, whose attention this time out is primarily on acoustic piano.
As the very name of the Rising Jazz Stars Foundation would suggest, Klabin is keenly aware of the importance of nurturing young talent, not to mention the marketing value of a youthful image to the major labels. Nevertheless, he refuses to allow such commercial considerations to exclude from his purview older, more mature, musicians whose efforts, though in some cases already well-documented on recordings, have tended to fall below the radar screens of many followers of the music. A case in point would be the well-traveled pianist, Mike Garson who, like Klabin, is in his early sixties.
Conversations with My Family
Recognizing the singular virtuosity and conceptual genius of Garson, a pianist and composer equally proficient in jazz, classical and rock, Klabin commissioned the protean performer to compose an ambitious, large-scale work of 20-plus tracks, Conversations with My Family. The finished product, which has received high praise in publications ranging from Downbeat to Keyboard Magazine, could have been merely eclectic and self-indulgent were it not for the composer's knack of lending to the most personal experiences resonances that are deeply and universally felt. What listener can resist intimate, superbly played meditations and relived memories with titles like "Child Within," "Lullaby for Our Daughters," "Blues for the Terrible Twos" and "Play Nicely Together"?
Although the latter title thematically references the challenges and satisfactions of parents, children and siblings getting along together, it's no less applicable to the musical conversations occurring on this remarkable programmatic work. The narrative, in the form of a musical suite based on Garson's recollections of his family's conversations, owes much of its success to the conversations of a number of the rising stars in the Resonance family. Kuno Schmid's sensitive orchestrations invest the individual episodes with poignancy and significance while the guitar of Oberg and trumpet of Roditi along with the flute of Lori Bell and violin of Christian Howes represent musical "family voices" that are at once unique and recognizable.
The Music of Djavan
In the case of Bell and Howes, each of whom is featured on a separate Resonance release, Klabin reveals another facet of his musical interests: while he judges both as the very best on their respective instruments despite the lack of recognition approaching their talent, he also sees the instruments themselves as "underdogs" on today's music scene. In Bell's case he points to a paucity of jazz flautists conspiring with her many years of experience as strikes against hershe isn't the glamorous or vivacious kid with which the big labels like to grace their covers.
Bell's Resonance debut, consisting of 11 numbers by the prolific Brazilian composer Djavan, on which she is assisted by Israeli-born pianist Tamir Hendelman, is testimony to Klabin's good judgment on many levelsthe appealing quality of Djavan's songs, the artists' understanding of and deep commitment to his compositions, and finally the expressiveness of the flute itself.
Then there's the violin, viewed by Klabin as one of the most expressive and versatile instruments despite the resistance it has traditionally met with in jazz. Klabin's answer is a Resonance release featuring Christian Howesin the producer's words, "the best jazz violinist I have ever heard." On his Resonance debut, Heartfelt, Howes strikes magic and exudes with the passion prized so highly by Klabin on all of his projects. For good measure, Klabin has enlisted the musical support of a personal friend of 40 years, pianist Roger Kellaway, along with arranger Kuno Schmid, in one of the catalog's most spirited, most appealing sessions, the program ranging from Benny Goodman and Woody Herman chestnuts to Brazilian and Italian standards by Eliane Elias and Ennio Morricone respectively.
Klabin also professes an interest in female vocalists, insisting that the attractive body image that has undeniably been a boost to numerous vocalists including (Diana Krall and Norah Jones) is of little to no concern to him compared to the artist's chops, expressiveness and, of course, passion, along with perhaps that extra little bit of "magic." Thus far Resonance has released three albums by three vocalists who either remain relatively obscure or are largely unknown beyond their local working territory.
You're Gonna Hear From Me
Perhaps the least documented prior to her Resonance debut, and therefore an undeniable sleeper among the threesome, is Cathy Rocco. Her initial offering for the label, You're Gonna Hear From Me, again benefits from the presence of some of the stallions in the Resonance musical stable, namely Kuno Schmid, Tamir Hendelman, John Beasley and, as a special bonus, the brilliant, late bassist Dave Carpenter. But the date inarguably belongs to Rocco, who sings with impressive power, conviction and, yes, passion. Anyone who views her performance of Bill Withers' "Hello Like Before" should have no difficulty subscribing to Klaburn's comparison of her to Nancy Wilson.
I Wanna Be Loved
Greta Matassa is another powerhouse singer who, in fact, already enjoys a fairly large and enthusiastic following in the Pacific Northwest. Fully aware of her versatility, elocutionary skills and strong projection, Klabin has helped her develop a diverse, ceaselessly engaging program on her 2009 debut, I Wanna Be Loved (in addition to the title song Bob Dorough's "Nothing Like You" is a highlight), while expressing faith in her ability to deliver the goods by providing her with a large ensemble (including Howes on violin) and rich tonal textures that would represent a potential barrier to singers of inferior lung power.
The Way They Make Me Feel
Finally, Angela Hagenbach, from Kansas City (also home to jazz singer Karrin Allyson), has a timbre that's highly individual and personal, possessing sufficient grain to resist overused epithets such as "sultry," "silky" and "smooth" ("smoldering," or "incendiary" seem more appropriate). She's also blessed with an unusually low range (easily extending down to low C below middle C), practically recalling the late Sarah Vaughan (who complemented the low end with an equally stratospheric extreme). Her Resonance debut, The Way They Make Me Feel, is at times reminiscent of the Shirley Horn/Johnny Mandel Here's to Life collaboration, both in terms of song selections shared by the two dates and in the nuanced orchestral voicings of Kuno Schmid's arrangements, which utilize full orchestra as well as the tasteful fills of veteran accordionist Frank Marocco.
If the balance between the orchestra and solo voice is occasionally a bit one-sided, favoring the orchestral arrangement over Hagenbach's unique interpretation of a song, the whole project nevertheless represents the kind of ambitious effort that has become increasingly rare in recordings of the present millennium and, moreover, is sure to make a larger audience aware of the distinctive sound and approach of Hagenbach, a successful professional model as well as experienced jazz singer. Listeners wishing to hear her stretch out in a somewhat looser, hard-swinging context might check out an earlier release, Weaver of Dreams (Amazon, 2001).
The Blues and the Abstract Truth, Take 2
Although the highly-in-demand pianist, composer and arranger Cunliffe doesn't quite fit the mold of Resonance Records as a launching pad for undiscovered or obscure talent, his The Blues and the Abstract Truth, Take 2 was no doubt a plus for the label's need to make its presence felt as quickly as possible. Moreover, Cunliffe, or for that matter few other musicians, have had an opportunity at once so attractive and daunting: to do a remake of Oliver Nelson's, to use an overused epithet, "classic" album The Blues and the Abstract Truth (Impulse!, 1961), for which Nelson himself even supplied a sequel, More Blues and the Abstract Truth (Impulse!, 1964).
Chances are that listeners sufficiently impressed by the original to pick up the sequel will be delighted by Cunliffe's release, The Blues and The Abstract Truth, Take 2. They should feel doubly rewarded upon recognizing the familiar strains of "Stolen Moments" and "Hoe Down," as Cunliffe has managed to capture much of the poignancy and playfulness of the originals while imbuing them with personal hues that are as fresh and creative as their sources. Along with Cunliffe's piano, the Duke Ellingtonian trombone of Andy Martin is a key element in the success of a venture that, in the minds of many listeners, still echoes with the vivid original contributions of Bill Evans, Freddie Hubbard and reed player Eric Dolphy.
No attempt to represent the breadth and depth of the Resonance catalog would be complete without reference to two posthumous releases, one a first-time issue of two on-location albums by pianist Gene Harris, the other a tribute album to bassist Scott LaFaro, centered largely on five previously unissued tracks.
Gene Harris Quartet
Live in London
Harris, who during the 1950s and early 1960s, was as busy and influential as pianists Red Garland and Wynton Kelly, dropped out of the music scene until being lured back in the early 1980s by bassist Ray Brown.
Shortly after demonstrating that he had not lost a step musicallyif anything, the new emphasis on extended live recordings seemed to bring out his unbounded passion and swing to a degree not present on the once-popular Three Sounds recordingshe was awarded leadership of the Count Basie band.
Gene Harris Quartet
Another Night in London
But as the two Resonance releasesLive in London and Another Night in London (2010)readily show, Harris was above all a pianist closer to Monty Alexander or even Oscar Peterson than Count Basie, not simply in terms of chops and swing but imaginative humor, dynamic change-ups capable of keeping an audience on the edge of their seats, and ballads that could be nuanced and lyrical or bluesy and funky. The presence of British drummer Martin Drew, an Oscar Peterson favorite, all but guarantees two sets of explosive piano playing that can't help but swing.
As with the Harris albums, which are tie-ins with a biography co-authored by Harris' wife Janie and Bob EvanchoElegant Soul: The Life and Times of Gene Harris (Caxton, 2005)Pieces of Jade, the Resonance recording of previously unissued Scott LaFaro recordings, coincides with a biography, Jade Visions: The Life and Music of Scott LaFaro (University of N. Texas, 2009) by noted author-jazz critic-song lyricist Gene Lees.
Pieces of Jade
Although LaFaro is arguably the most influential bassist in jazz since Jimmy Blanton, Pieces of Jade will understandably be welcomed by bass players and a limited, specialized audience. Yet it provides approximately 30 minutes worth of previously unreleased music from 1961 by LaFaro with pianist Don Friedman and drummer Pete LaRocafive songs that would once have been considered a program of adequate length by LP standards.
The audio, though hardly up to Klabin's standards, is acceptable, and the Resonance producer takes pains to assure that no space is wasted by including: an amateur recording of a practice session between LaFaro and Bill Evans working on alternate chord changes to "My Foolish Heart"; a 1970s interview of Bill Evans (who focuses on LaFaro) by Klabin; and a musical meditation, "Memories of Scotty," composed and performed by Friedman and recorded by Klabin.
One of the revelations for some will undoubtedly be the strength of LaFaro as a "walker." (In addition to the present album, curious listeners may wish to check out the albums LaFaro recorded, with pianist and vibraphonist Victor Feldman, on The Arrival (Contemporary 1958), and especially pianist Hampton Hawes' For Real! (Contemporary 1958), on which engineer Roy DuNann manages to capture the authoritative attack, powerful sound and propulsive swing of LaFaro's walking bass lines with stunning verisimilitude).
As the heart and soul of Resonance Records and head of the Foundation of Rising Jazz Stars that it serves, George Klabin must take satisfaction in the knowledge that, after so little time, he's accomplished his goals of capturing many magic moments while uncovering some exceptional talentperformers whose previous lack of recognition and monetary rewards did not lessen their passion for the music. But it's also likely that for all of his idealism, he's enough of a realist to sense that jazz may be a dying art, beyond the heroic resuscitation efforts of any single individual. As he has said, a good producer must know when, during the course of a recording session, it's time for another take of a difficult number and when it's time to cut losses and move on. From a listener's perspective, we can only hope that the last few years represent no more than a birth and a beginning for the embryonic label. Look for many more magical moments to follow.