MoonJune Records: A Decade of Progressive Rock Documentation
At the time of the interview, MoonJune Records had just hit its 10-year mark. Pavkovic was optimistic about the label's future, and provided details on how he works with musicians and remains responsive to his customers.
The MoonJune office is a working shrine to some of the best jazz and progressive rock artists, past to presentfrom Pavkovic's own CDs waiting to be mailed out, to extensive video and book libraries and stacks of trade publications and music magazines. One wall is covered with posters and stickers going back to the late 1960s and English bands such as Colosseum, and up to the recent past with Indonesian groups such as Tohpati Ethnomission.
There is no shortage of interest for a visitor to feast eyes on in this officeand from the way Pavkovic jubilantly blasts music out of his sound system, it is obvious he is a man who loves what he does.
Interview with Leonardo Pavkovic
All About Jazz: Please tell us about your background.
Leonardo Pavkovic: I was born in former Yugoslavia (in the region of Bosnia) of a very mixed ethnic background, mostly Montenegrin and Croatian. I grew up in southern Italy and finished college there in Bari, graduating with specializations in Portuguese Language & Literature & Brazilian Literature. I moved to New York City in 1990 and have lived here ever since. Before working in the music business, I was a partner in the New York graphic design and marketing company Studio T, which had a lot of customers in the music business. Even though my life was already pretty interesting before 1990, I totally found myself when I moved to the greatest metropolis in the world, New York. Living in this magic big city is a better education than you'll find in any college anywhere, at least for me.
AAJ: What about the music that has inspired you?
LP: Simply said, I like the music that I like. I do not value a classic jazz album that I like over a classic rock album that I like. Any good music that I discover stays with me. Growing up, punk was happening all around me but never attracted me; I was more interested in Deep Purple, Black Sabbath, The Doors and Led Zeppelin, my core bands at the time. Then when new wave and glam metal were happening, they also didn't attract me at all. Around this time I started learning more about progressive rock bands like Pink Floyd, Yes and Genesis, as well as American blues legends such as Muddy Waters or John Lee Hooker and English blues guys like John Mayall.
There were no videos back then, but three significant concert films that shaped my musical outlook were Woodstock (1970), The Isle of Wight (1970) concerts, and Pink Floyd's Live at Pompeii (1972). As a teenager and during my early twenties, I gravitated toward people who were older than me, usually longhairs, assuming, very often rightly, that they knew the most about the blues, classic rock and jazz of the 1960s and 1970s. During the 1980s, my musical tastes evolved much further, but not because of the actual popular music of that time. I proudly turned my back on the music of the 1980s, a decade I spent discovering the much more vital and intelligent music of the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s.
Throughout my life I have totally ignored all forms of mainstream music, whether it be Bon Jovi, Blondie, Whitney Houston, Madonna, Michael Jackson, Motley Crue, Phil Collins or anything similarly commercial. It was all just tasteless commercial cheese to me, and I was far more interested in bands that used Mellotron or flute or violin.
AAJ: Tell us more about your journey into jazz.
Leonardo Pavkovic (seated), with members of D.F.A.
From left: Alberto Bonomi, Alberto De Grandis, Luca Baldassari, Silvio Minella
LP: I dug deeply into the ECM catalogue in the 1980s and discovered master musicians like Terje Rypdal, Keith Jarrett, Jan Garbarek, Eberhard Weber, Egberto Gismonti and Pat Metheny. Jazz was an important link to all of the progressive rock musicians that I admired. Besides ECM artists, I loved figures such as John Coltrane, Miles Davis, Sun Ra, Elton Dean, and Keith Tippett. In the 1980s, Italy was a mecca for live jazz, and I was lucky to see so many amazing American and European jazzers perform there. Many of the best progressive bands such as King Crimson, Soft Machine, Frank Zappa, and Hatfield and the North were heavily influenced by the best jazz music of the 1950s and 1960s. Artists like Robert Wyatt [who wrote the Soft Machine tune "Moon In June"] have taken all of this jazz background forward into other areas they are still exploring, much as I do with MoonJune.
AAJ: When and how did you start MoonJune Records?
LP: Typically, people start record labels with multiple-year business plans and projections, some investment, an artist roster, distribution in place, a good lawyer and accountant, office space and so on. Nothing like that happened in my case. I became a record label almost by "accident" in 2001, and after ten years I am still here with this unusual and I would say very unique label called MoonJune Records.
In 2001, I accidentally discovered the world of progressive rock festivals in the USA. I was always a big prog-rock fan, but in those days I didn't have any idea that those festivals existed. A friend from Italy told me about NEARfest, just two hours west of New York City; I tried to go, but all tickets were sold out. Then, one month before the festival, the same friend told me that he could not come to the festival and that I could use his ticket. That's how I went to NEARfest in June 2000, where I discovered a new band I had never heard before whose performance blew my mind. That was D.F.A. from Verona, Italy. After their performance, I met the band, we spoke in Italian, and we immediately became friends.
In the meantime, my Italian friend, who in those days managed the Italian band Finisterre and was producing their album In Limine for his label, asked me if I could work with the band, deciding to reissue their 1997 live recording from the ProgDay festival in North Carolina, with a bonus track, different title and artwork. When trying to find gigs for the band, I didn't have much experience in booking bands then, but thanks to some contacts in Mexico (where the band enjoyed a great deal of cult fame among the prog fans), I was somehow able to book Finisterre seven shows in that country in early 2001, a very nice tour, and that's how I started my booking activities.
While co-producing Soft Works, a sort of Soft Machine reunion (with Allan Holdsworth, Elton Dean, Hugh Hopper and John Marshall), Elton Dean, whom I had known very well since the mid-80s, gave me the master of a live recording he had made with guitarist Mark Hewins. I decided to release that one, then D.F.A.'s live performance from NEARfest 2000, and a live Finisterre performance from a prog festival in 1997, and that's how the label started, with Bar Torque by Dean/Hewins, Storybook by Finisterre, and Work In Progress Live by D.F.A. All three records were released in June 2001.
From left: Chad Wackerman (Allan Holdsworth Band), Jonathan Schang (District 97)
Paul Wertico, Allan Holdsworth, Ernest Tibbs (Allan Holdsworth Band)
AAJ: Where do you find inspiration for the CD cover designs you create?
LP: I have a background in graphic design from working at Studio T here in New York City for many years. I am generally not interested in CD covers with musicians posing, which can be a turn-off and says nothing about the music. I try to let the music inspire a mood and color for a cover. In a case like Soft Machine's Drop, which is more of a historical recording, an older photo makes sense in that context. There have also been a few times when I let artists submit their ideas for a cover by providing high-quality artwork, and if I liked the idea, I gave them complete freedom and it worked out very well. There were also one or two designs chosen by an artist that I wasn't particularly happy with, due to unfortunate usage of fonts and flawed layout, but they can't all be masterpieces.
Generally the reaction from fans, reviewers, and radio programmers has been very positive. While a handful of my releases were in the traditional jewel box format, most of them have been digipaks, and I am now leaning toward ecopak designs that eliminate plastic altogether. If my budget allowed, I wouldn't mind designing luxury packages, but in today's world, where CDs sell less and less, it's simply cost-prohibitive. I tend to go abstract, connecting the music to the images it evokes for me. I like bright colors rather than dark images that do not work well from a distance. The pictures have to be identifiable and stand out as something associated with MoonJune.
AAJ: You speak several languages. How has this helped you cultivate your relationships in different countries?
LP: I speak six languages. The first two are Serbian and Croatian from my original background. I also speak Italian, Spanish and Portuguese (which I also studied at the University level), and of course English. My ability to speak multiple languages has been an important asset and sets MoonJune apart from most other labels. I handle all MoonJune public relations myself, and it's advantageous to be able to communicate with most of the label's contacts and fans in their own languages. I have noticed that it is easier to gain the trust of musicians, fans and writers if they can see that you are genuinely trying to relate to them. Speaking Spanish has served me well throughout Latin America and Portuguese for the eighteen years that I have been traveling back and forth to Brazil. My mind often operates bilingually in Portuguese.
But it is important to understand culture beyond languageknowledge of customs and nuances is very important and earns you respect for making the effort. I experienced this in Indonesia with MoonJune bands like simakDialog and Tohpati Ethnomission and future MoonJune artists the Agam Hamzah Ligro Trio and I Know You Well Miss Clara. It helps immeasurably to establish personal relationships, this is my modus vivendi and modus operandi.
AAJ: Please tell us about some upcoming MoonJune releases.
LP: This is a big year with MoonJune Records celebrating its tenth year of existence. There are some great upcoming releases in the works right now. Bani Ahead is the name of the new studio album by Italian jazz-fusion band Slivovitz. It is their third release, their second on MoonJune. A new project of Belgian guitarist Michel Delville, Machine Mass Trio, should very much interest fans of avant-electric jazz. Deville will also deliver the next The Wrong Object CD by early next year. There will also be a live album from Seattle's Moraine recorded at NEARfest 2010 called Metamorphic Rock.
From left: simakDialog's Riza Arshad and Tohpati
Jumping over to Indonesia, there will be a release by Tohpati Bertiga, an amazing Indonesian power jazz-rock trio project. The leader and guitarist, Tohpati, will also contribute his amazing fretwork to the long-awaited new studio album from simakDialog and to the follow-up studio album by his other group Tohpati Ethnomission. Another Indonesian power jazz-rock trio led by guitarist Agam Hamzah, Ligro Trio, will be coming out as well. In the beginning of 2012, expect a new studio album from Soft Machine Legacy and another Indonesian band with a Canterbury jazz feel called I Know You Well Miss Clara.
AAJ: Are there musicians you tour with who you can see recording for your label in the future?
LP: Almost all the groups that I book live are not on my label. Soft Machine Legacy and partially Allan Holdsworth (his project with Alan Pasqua, Jimmy Haslip, and Chad Wackerman) are the only two that I deal with for both the MoonJune label and booking agency. I am very active booking Allan Holdsworth, whom I have booked exclusively worldwide since 2006.
I got into artist booking, which is actually my main activity at MoonJune, by accident, but also a kind of destiny, I suppose. After that Finisterre tour in Mexico in 2001, I was involved in a sort of Soft Machine reunion with the project Soft Works (Holdsworth, Dean, Hopper, Marshall), and when looking for a licensing deal in Japan for their album Abracadabra in 2001, several people in the music business over there asked me if I knew the legendary Italian progressive rock band PFM. I said yes, and I called Franz Di Cioccio, the drummer and leader of the band, with whom I share several mutual friends, and asked if they would like to return to Japan after 26 long years, and of course the answer was "yes."
In those days, PFM were supposed to do a live DVD recording in Lugano, Switzerland, and I offered my help to license this DVD in Japan, but nothing worked outthe band was unhappy with the video quality, plus they had experienced many technical difficulties during the recording of that show, but that actually turned out to be a good thing for me. I explained the situation to my contact person in Japan, and it led to not only a tour for PFM (three sold-out gigs in Kawasaki/Tokyo and two in Osaka), but also to the making of the Live In Japan DVD and live double CD recorded at Club Citt in Kawasaki in May 2002. After that I was in charge of PFM's international bookings, booking them several times all around Latin America and bringing them back to Japan and also to Korea.
Since I was the manager/producer of Soft Works, I was also involved in all bookings of Soft Works around the world. Allan Holdsworth left the band for a number of personal reasons but we continued the band under the name Soft Machine Legacy, featuring John Etheridge on guitar. The band toured Japan twice and all around the world, and is still active, despite the deaths of legendary figures Elton Dean (replaced by Theo Travis) and Hugh Hopper (replaced by Roy Babbington). In the meantime, in late 2005 Allan Holdsworth asked me to help him book concerts worldwide, and for now, these are the two artists that I have booked exclusively. As a result of these activities, I became well-known among Japanese promoters and have done business with several of them; since 2002 I have booked over three-dozen tours of Japan and visited Japan 29 times.
In addition I have booked, both exclusively and nonexclusively, more than 50 artists in over 40 countries, including Bozzio-Holdsworth-Levin-Mastelotto, Area, New Trolls, Scott Henderson, PFM, Banco, Arti E Mestieri, Alex Machacek Band, Colosseum, Jan Akkerman, Richard Sinclair, Gary Boyle, Hatfield & The North, Corrado Rustici, Andy Summers, Bill Bruford, Eddie Jobson, Terry Bozzio, Brian Auger, Curved Air. My two exclusive artists have always been Allan Holdsworth and Soft Machine Legacy, but now, with a new company, 2 Plus Music & Entertainment, I am also moving into different areas besides progressive rock, jazz and fusion, including some heavy metal, classic rock and hard rock artists.
Yes, I would like to have a few more bands on MoonJune that are very active doing live performances, but it is very difficult for new artists in such a niche genre as progressive and avant jazz/jazz-rock to tour and perform frequently. But you never know, if I had more time and funds, I wouldn't mind signing someone who does 150-200 shows a year! Surprisingly, the young MoonJune band from Chicago, Marbin, is doing a lot of shows. Those guys are very young and aggressive and they play all around Chicago and that whole region. Since I met them a year ago, they have probably played more than 50 shows, which is very impressive for that type of music. With few exceptions, the majority of the artists on my label are not professional musicians, they have their day jobs and families, and touring on a bigger scale is virtually impossible for them. This is simply a fact of life for this sort of noncommercial music, but the artists are every bit as dedicated to their music as the more financially successful touring acts.
AAJ: What other projects are you working on that consume your time away from the label?
From left: Carmine Appice (Beck, Bogart & Appice, Vanilla Fudge)
Derek Schulman (Gentle Giant), Leonardo Pavkovic
LP: I am always busy with different related things that take up my time. In the past 18 months I became involved in 2 Plus Music & Entertainment, a company I founded with my very dear friend, former Gentle Giant front man Derek Shulman, over past 30 years a very successful music business impresario. It's a management and consultancy company that caters to a completely different universe in the music business.
One of my roles at 2 Plus is to leverage my vast knowledge of Latin America and Asia. We represent promoters and entertainment companies in countries in emerging markets, with a focus on Brazil, China, India and Southeast Asia. In many cases major promoters and agents have little understanding of the cultural differences of doing business outside of the European and North American markets. With our knowledge and right partners with major experience in promoting shows and entertainment events in these territories, 2 Plus Music & Entertainment bridges this "divide" for both promoters and agents and much, much more. We also oversee U.S. operations for an important European rock label, Frontiers Records, and we manage a few artists, a mix of emerging rock bands and "major" names, which we cannot yet officially announce.
Derek Shulman was always a magician in achieving success. People often wonder why I joined 2 Plus. Either they think that I'm plotting to reunite and manage Gentle Giant, or they say that Derek will make me very rich by discovering the new Bon Jovi (as he did 30 years ago)! I enjoy working with Derek because he was in one of my all-time favorite bands, but there is more to it than that, he is a great guy and very close friend. The rest is a job. Some people work for Microsoft (and use a Mac at home) and then play some amazing music; others work for UPS or an insurance company. My job is at 2 Plus and I am taking the job very seriously (but with a great dose of fun and enjoyment), but my heart is definitely with MoonJune. 2 Plus recently dealt with some rock celebrities such as David Coverdale and Sebastian Bach, but to me it's just a job, and I wasn't at all impressed by their rock star status and attitude, even though they are very cool and interesting people. I told Derek that last year when I went to London with him and met his younger brother Ray Shulman of the Gentle Giant hall of fame; yes, then I was very much impressed!
AAJ: Did you ever hear any feedback from former Soft Machine members such as Robert Wyatt, Mike Ratledge or Karl Jenkins on your label about the formation of Soft Works and Soft Machine Legacy?
LP: Robert Wyatt and I exchanged four of five postcards over the years. I told him about the inspiration that I took from his work, most obviously from "Moon in June," and he thought that the "MoonJune" label concept and ethos was a nice idea. We spoke on the phone once briefly as well. Mike Ratledge has not performed live since 1976, and like Wyatt, he has long since moved on from that era, but he remains friends with guitarist John Etheridge and they meet up often. Ratledge thinks Soft Machine Legacy is a good concept and is glad to have some of his compositions in the band's live and recorded repertoire. We were supposed to meet once in England when I was with John Etheridge, but we got stuck in traffic and it did not happen. I know that Mike particularly liked the fact that (with my encouragement) Beppe Crovella, keyboardist for Italian prog-fusion legends Arti & Mesteri, made an exclusive tribute album to the music of Mike Ratledge on MoonJune last year called What's Rattlin' on the Moon.
Karl Jenkins was invited to appear as a guest at a Soft Machine Legacy gig years ago, but he is really not interested in that at all. Jenkins is independently wealthy and his career has moved to an entirely different place.
AAJ: How would you describe the overall MoonJune philosophy?
LP: I seek to be spiritually and intellectually free. I did not start this label with a business plan per se. I had none whatsoever, I just wanted to help people I love and respect release some great music, and wanted to be around people who are connected through a passion for the music. This is a story of substance and philosophy coming together. The music of course is at the center of all this, music that stretches the imagination beyond jazz, progressive rock and fusion yet includes the best of all those worlds. I want to see people with a common interest bonding over food and drinks, not necessarily contracts. The equation must be that the passion for making innovative, quality music supersedes the desire to just make money, because you can do that with other kinds of music much more easily.
AAJ: What is most important to you about the musicians on your label?
LP: Personal relationships are very important to how I operate. While I enjoy unique, complex and virtuosic music, I only wish to work with musicians who are very personable. Many musicians I have met over the years are very talented, nice people, but are not easy to work with in terms of ego. Typically these are the people who are a bit more established in their careers. While I like eccentricity and genius, I do not like arrogance and self-importance.
The relationships I have had with musicians like Soft Machine's Elton Dean and Hugh Hopper and still have with Allan Holdsworth are very special. I basically have a personal relationship with everyone that I decide to work with. There must be a personal connection for it to work, not just deciding what would traditionally just be a good business idea. With the exception of Mahogany Frog from Canada and Slivovitz from Italy, whose music I like and whom I befriended on the internet, I have met all of my artists face to face and let the circumstances fall into place.
AAJ: What other label figures do you respect and admire?
LP: Manfred Eicher, the honcho of ECM, which is my favorite record label. He is a stubborn German who knows what he wants and does not compromise. He does everything himself. I mean, he started out as just being a music fan trying to put out a Mal Waldron solo record and very little budget in 1969, which turned out to be the first ECM release. The rest is the legendary history. He has achieved a unique, unmistakable sound and aesthetic.
Soft Machine Legacy, from left: John Etheridge, John Marshall
Theo Travis, Roy Babbington
I also deeply respect my buddy of many years, the great Steve Feigenbaum of Cuneiform Records. We have very similar tastes in music, and I love virtually every single CD he has released so far. The two of us can be considered the "American Soft Machine guys"; while Steve has released eight vintage Soft Machine live albums and a dozen recordings featuring Soft Machine alumni Richard Wyatt, Hugh Hopper, John Marshall and Elton Dean, I have released two very unique Soft Machine archival live recordings, two albums apiece featuring Hugh Hopper and Elton Dean, and four albums by the current band Soft Machine Legacy. If you need anything Soft Machine in the USA, Steve and I are your guys, I guess!
AAJ: What are some of your goals with this label?
LP: I have two important goals. The first goal is to continue to strengthen the MoonJune brand. The music released by MoonJune will always have some unique quality; it will not just be jazz per se, or fusion, or psychedelic, it can be all of those things in degrees, but not exclusively one category. I want the music to transcend these boundaries. There will always be opportune situations where the music and the label find each other.
The second goal is to make people happy. I am not just talking about myself and the listeners, but the musicians as well. There is a great personal joy and satisfaction in taking people's music to a place where it can be more widely recognized. The compelling story is not just the music, although all MoonJune music is compelling in its own way, but the personal, passionate dedication of the musicians themselves.
AAJ: In a marketplace full of niche labels, what makes MoonJune stand out?
LP: As I said, MoonJune is a very unique brand and is not easily put in a box. The unique thing about MoonJune is that over the past 10 years it has been run and operated by a one-man-army, namely myself. I was doing everything: selling records, promoting releases, shipping boxes large and small to distributors and mail order companies, stuffing envelopes, going to the post office or UPS or FedEx by myself, doing 95 percent of all graphics, establishing unique relationships with press and radio people in over 40 countries worldwide, cultivating friendships with all the musicians on my label, and making sure that MoonJune artists know about each other's music, which may possibly lead to new friendships and hopefully to new musical projects. I have shipped thousands and thousands of albums sold on my website to all regions of the world, even to places such as Fiji or Greenland; virtually every single order was fulfilled by myself, so there really is a personal connection between myself, all my CDs (physical CDs, that is), and everyone who receives them: fans, reviewers, radio programmers, promoters, friends, musicians.
AAJ: What are some things that you would have done differently, if any, when starting the label?
LP: I would have gotten a business plan, a lawyer, an accountant, distribution and a solid roster to start, and above all a nice load of cash in the bank, but it didn't happen that way. I guess in some way it had to happen in an unorthodox way for it to have the special appeal that I sense it has to artists and listeners. It has essentially been my side gig for the past 10 years.
AAJ: Ten years later, what is different about now and when you started MoonJune?
LP: I started this label as a one-man show and have maintained a standard of quality through my own passion and love for this music. Ten years later, with 41 releases to date and worldwide exposure (even though in the niche world of quality progressive music), and having toured with different bands across the globe, I am envisioning bigger things for MoonJune. I am very confident that this very special brand is ripe for expansion. I will combine some of the best of the old ideas that have worked and combine them with new ideas such as seeking out potential investors to expand my resources in terms of hiring some key people and being able to release some of the things that I have long wanted to release. More amazing music from the archives, as well as new groups and special projects, will bring MoonJune to the next level that I believe it is fully capable of achieving.
A compelling story will always be behind everything at MoonJune. My only concern is that in the next 18 months I will be tremendously busy with my "real" job, which is expanding rather nicely. But I will always have time for MoonJune, that's what and who I am.
Finisterre recorded Storybook live at the ProgDay Fest in North Carolina back in 2001. This Italian progressive rock outfit integrates more than enough jazz riffs to attract fans of King Crimson, Focus and PFM even performing its composition "Altaloma." Keyboardist Boris Valle creates a waterfall of sound for guitarist Stefano Marelli to play artful arpeggios that evolve into warm volum-pedaled solos. Marelli shares vocal duties with bassist Fabio Zuffanti on epic pieces such as "Orizzonte Degli Eventi." Sergio Grazia's flute finds the right places to shine as in the lead off song "In Limine."
Finisterre's brand of progressive rock contains riffs you would expect to find on an older National Health album, but even without the songs sung in Italian, the group evoke a very distinct Mediterranean sound. This is a good place to start on the MoonJune catalogue.
Elton Dean and Mark Hewins
Ex-Soft Machine saxophonist Elton Dean debuted on MoonJune with music that was unlike anything he had made before. Enlisting former Soft Heap guitarist Mark Hewins as his duo partner for the date, the duo create three atmospheric pieces that make up Bar Torque. Dean, known for being split between the structured and the atonal, finds a new way to express the two with Hewins. Lyrical and emotive, Dean plays each piece space and freedom that let his minimalist ideas flow easily. Hewins works as a one man orchestra with his guitar and effects giving Dean enough colors with which o mix his paintbrush. Without label identification, it appears that this could have easily passed as an ECM release in terms of sonics and focus. A great opportunity for any Soft Machine fans who want to listen to the clear thoughts and possibilities of Elton Dean as never heard before.
In 1971, original drummer and sometimes vocalist for Soft Machine, Robert Wyatt left the group. A replacement was sought and the sound of these jazz rockers was about to change dramatically. Drummer Phil Howard makes the ultimate difference in sound on the live recording, Drop, as is explained at length in the liner notes. Howard thrashes frenetically as if he were Tony Williams and Sunny Murray in the same body. Howard changed the time and structure of Soft staples such as "Slightly All the Time" and "Out-Bloody-Rageous." Bassist Hugh Hopper and keyboardist Mike Ratledge struggle to maintain control all through the set trying to keep up with Howard. The drummer happily encourages the enabling saxophonist Elton Dean in the direction found on the first half of the next studio release, Fifth (Columbia, 1972) .
The sound is stunning on a one time documentation of the most free flying version of Soft Machine ever, before Ratledge and Hopper won the struggle resulting in Howard's eventual expulsion from the group, which had Dean soon looking for his own exit shortly afterwards.
Floating World Live
Another true gem to surface for release, recorded back in 1975. After the dissolution of the most well known Soft Machine Lineup of drummer Robert Wyatt, keyboardist Mike Ratledge, and the now deceased bassist Hugh Hopper and saxophonist Elton Dean, talented replacement members crept in one by one. Although Ratledge remained, the group gradually changed its sound with drummer John Marshall, keyboardist and reed player Karl Jenkins, bassist Roy Babbington and virtuoso guitarist extraordinaire Allan Holdsworth. This live release from a German radio broadcast has the band in fine form performing the majority of the set from its then recent studio release, Bundles (Harvest, 1975). The audio quality on Floating World Live has this edition of Soft Machine sounding far less dated than other recordings of the era. A must-hear for Holdsworth fans.
Elton Dean & The Wrong Object
The Unbelievable Truth
With little to no preparation beyond a sound check, Elton Dean took the stage with the Belgian quintet The Wrong Object in 2006, with plans for future collaborations. Seven songs later, it would turned out to be their first and last meeting due to Dean's passing, but the music contained on The Unbelievable Truth beamed urgently, with Dean showing no sign of deterioration. "Seven for Lee," one of the three compositions contributed by Dean, takes on a next generation glow with guitarist Michel Delville and the band adding a very buoyant feel to this classic Dean tune. The Wrong Object holds its own with four compositions where saxophones and trumpet blend together,and with sound effects and chords emitted from electric guitar and electric bass following Dean as he snake charms his saxello and alto way through the music.
Numero D'Vol, by ex-Soft Machine bassist Hugh Hopper and his three other band members, is 100% improvisation. Hopper diverted his usual inclinations towards composition in favor of stretching out with shifting tempos and melodies. For those familiar with Hopper's style the change on this date should stand out. Tenor saxophonist Simon Picard navigates the tunes with Hopper providing support. The Canterbury feel that is usually baked into Hopper's work is left behind far enough for the avant-garde factor to be the dominant. The opening title track, "Numero D'Vol," may be the most accessible piece on this recording. This CD is one of the last solo group recordings made by Hopper before his passing in 2009.
Arti E Mestieri
First Live in Japan
The legendary Italian progressive rock group Arti E Mestieri, from the 1970s, returned to music after a ten year break back in 1998. This 2005 performance in Japan is its first release on MoonJune and marks a renewed vigor from the group. The material played is mostly from two classic albums, Tilt (Cramps, 1974) and Giro Di Valzer Per Domani (Barclay, 1975), and sounds as relevant now as it did then. "Strips," the second song in the "Tilt Suite," and one of the only vocal songs which truly displays the dramatic and chilling moods that Arti E Mestieri is capable of. Keyboardist Beppe Crovella fully drives his bank of keyboards into leading the charge, most notably exploiting the mellotron to the fullest extent.
The other standout among these talented players is drummer Furio Chirico, who almost duels the music at some points, and shadows some of the most subtle piano playing by Crovella, such as on "Marilyn," featured in the "Giro Di Valzer Per Domani Suite." This album is essential listening for fans of this genre and an accessible entrance way for newcomers and the curious.
Phil Miller In Cahoots
Guitarist Phil Miller is a veteran of the Canterbury scene that played in such influential groups as National Health, Delivery, Matching Mole and Hatfield & The North. In Cahoots is his jazz rock group since the 1980s and Conspiracy Theories is his first on MoonJune. Miller works primarily as a colorist throughout the album rather than a riff master or soloist, similar to how tenor legend Wayne Shorter conducted the proceedings on his High Life album (Verve, 1995) . He displays his best fretwork on the last track, "Lydiotic," where he opens up in full bloom. Miller employs some superb players, such as bassist Freddy Baker, who provides solid support and lyrical solos several times throughout the album, reed player Didier Malherbe, his old Hatfield & The North mate John Sinclair for bass on one track, and other usual suspects from this scene.
Conspiracy Theories is a well balanced recording that tips its hat to the past while looking forward in terms of contemporary jazz.
Work In Progress Live
DFA is a fusion quartet hailing from Italy. This recorded live performance captures its first American live show, at the NEARFest 2000 in Pennsylvania. This was the group's first disc to be distributed in the US. The passionate proficiency projected by this group is astounding. The keyboards, guitar, bass and drums played by these musicians paint an aural collage throughout seven compositions with vocals appearing on the eloquent "Caleidoscopio." The blazing riffs from keyboardist Alberto Bonomi are wonderful. His tragic accidental death by auto crash in Italy ended a very promising career. Work In Progress Live is an opportunity to hear DFA's truly great music in full flight.
The Indonesian group simakDialog formed almost twenty years ago. Patahan, a live album recorded at the Goethe Haus in Jakarta in 2005, is its first international release and its first for MoonJune. Keyboardist, primary composer and founder, Riza Arshad, provides an overall melodic feel that would not be out of place on an ECM release, however the clever attack of guitarist Tohpati Ario Hutomo ( Tohpati Ethnomission ) and the rhythmic way in which the rest of the group pushes the music seems to embody the MoonJune ethos of creating music that is not easily identifiable. The percussive quality that pervades the entire disc may seem towards the world music end of the spectrum, but it is Arshad and Tohpati that maintain a complexity that speaks of something else. This is a recommended start for listening to this group.
Soft Machine Legacy
Soft Machine Legacy has contained original Soft Machine members since it was created earlier this century. Live Adventures is a product of the latest lineup and was recorded live shortly after the 2009 passing of bassist Hugh Hopper. Bassist Roy Babbbington, another Soft Machine alumnus, joins drummer John Marshall and guitarist John Etheridge, along with saxophonist Theo Travis, who was recruited in 2006 after the passing of Elton Dean. No matter how much change in personnel has occurred, a very identifiable and distinct sound is maintained all around.
The balance in this music, as with the original different versions of Soft Machine, has always been about having just enough jazz fusion, grounded by very rock-like rhythms, that follow stated recurring and melodic themes. Add the right amount of soloing and the resulting music is what continues to appeal to fans of cerebral, instinctive instrumental music on the modern jazz, rock and jamband scenes. Live Adventures provides a nice listen back to the past, along with present suggestions of even more new promising music still ahead.
Tracks and Personnel
Tracks: In Limine; Orizzonte Degli Eventi; Hispanica; Altaloma; Macinaaqua, Macinaluna; Asia; Phaedra; Canto Antico
Personnel: Fabio Zuffanti: bass, vocals; Stefano Marelli: electric and acoustic guitars, vocals; Boris Valle: keyboards; Sergio Grazia: flute; Andrea Orlando: drums.
Tracks: Bar Torque; Sylvan; Merilyn
Personnel: Elton Dean, saxello, alto saxophone; Mark Hewins, samplers, Casio PG 380 synth guitar, Y Tatay Thomas acoustic guitar.
Tracks: Neo Caliban Grides; All White; Slightly All the Time: Drop; M.C.; Out-Bloody-Rageous; As If; Dark Swing; Intropigling; Pigling Bland.
Personnel: Mike Ratledge: Lowrey organ, Fender Rhodes electric piano; Elton Dean: saxello, alto saxophone, Fender Rhodes electric piano; Hugh Hopper: bass; Phil Howard: drums.
Floating World Live
Tracks: The Floating World; Bundles; Land of the Bag Snake; Ealing Comedy; The Man Who Waved at Trains; Peff; North Point; Hazard Profile (Part One); J.S.M.; Riff III; Song of Aeolus; Endgame; Penny Hitch (Coda).
Personnel: Mike Ratledge: Lowrey organ, electric piano, synthesizers; Karl Jenkins: oboe, soprano saxophone, recorder, electric piano, acoustic piano; John Marshall: drums, percussion; Allan Holdsworth: electric guitar, violin; Roy Babbington: bass guitar.
The Unbelievable Truth
Tracks: Seven For Lee; Millennium Jumble; Baker's Treat; The Unbelievable Truth; A Cunning Catastrophe; Cunnimingus Redux; The Basho Variations.
Personnel: Elton Dean: saxello, alto saxophone; Laurent Delchambre: drums, assorted percussion; Fred Delplancq: tenor saxophone; Michel Delville: guitar, voice; Jean-Paul Esti venart: trumpet; Damien Polard: bass.
Tracks: Numero D'Vol; On The Spot; Earwigs Enter; Free Bee; Get That Tap; Bootz; Shovelfeet; Bees Knees Man; Straight Away; Twilight; Some Other Time.
Personnel: Simon Picard: tenor sax; Steve Franklin: keyboards; Hugh Hopper: bass; Charles Hayward: drums.
First Live in Japan
Tracks: Tilt Suite: Gravita 9, 81; Strips; Corrosione; Positivo/Negativo; In Cammino. Giro Di Valzer Per Domani Suite: Valzer Per Domani; Mirafiori; Nov Luna Prima; Mescal/Mescalero; Nove Lune Dopo; Aria Pesante; Dimensione Terra. Kawasaki; Glory; Marilyn; Arcenciel; Alba Mediterranea; 2000.
Personnel: Beppe Crovella: Hammond organ, piano, mellotron, Moog synthesizer; Furio Chirico: drums, percussion; Marco Roagna: electric and acoustic guitar; Iano Nicolo: vocals; Roberto Cassetta: bass, vocals; Lautaro Acosta: violin; Alfredo Ponissi: soprano, alto, tenor and baritone saxophones, flute and clarinet.
Tracks: Conspiracy Theories; Press Find Enter; Flashpoint; 5s & 7s; End Of The Line; Freudian Triode; Orinaca; Crackpot; Lydiotic.
Personnel: Phil Miller: guitar, synth guitar (1-9); Pete Lemer: keyboards (1-9); Fred Baker: bass (1-9); Mark Fletcher: drums (1-9); Simon Finch: trumpet, flugelhorn (2-4, 8, 9); Annie Whitehead: trombone (1, 2, 4 6, 8, 9); Didier Malherbe: soprano sax, alto sax, flute, doudouk, ocarina (1, 2, 4-8); Simon Picard: tenor sax (1, 3, 4, 8); Doug Boyle: guitar (4); Richard Sinclair: bass (9); Dave Stewart: tuned percussion (4); Barbara Gaskin: vocals (4).
Work In Progress Live
Tracks: Escher; Caleidoscopio; Trip On Metro; La Via; Pantera; Ragno.
Personnel: Silvio Minella, guitars; Luca Baldassari, electric bass; Alberto Bonomi, keyboards, vocals; Alberto De Grandis, drums, vocals.
Tracks: One Has to Be; Spur of the Moment; Kemarau; Worthseeing; Kain Sigli.
Personnel: Riza Arshad: acoustic piano, Fender Rhodes, synth; Tohpati Ario Hutomo: electric, synth and acoustic guitars; Adhitya Pratama: fretless bass; Endang Ramdan: Sunda kendang, toys; Emy Tata: Makassar kendang, ceng-ceng, kethuk, vocals, Bahasa Indonesian poetry reader; Nyak Ina Raseuki Ubiet: vocals (2, 5); Marla Stukenberg: German poetry reader.
Tracks: Has Riff; Grapehound; Nodder In The Back Room; Song Of Aeolus; Relegation Of Pluto / Transit; Gesolreut; Facelift; Last Day.
Personnel: John Etheridge: electric guitar; Theo Travis: tenor and soprano sax, flute; Roy Babbington: bass guitar; John Marshall: drums.
Photo Credit All Photos: Courtesy of Leonardo Pavkovic, MoonJune Records.