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Matthias Winckelmann: Happy Birthday ENJA!

By Published: November 1, 2011
AAJ: The ENJA catalog counts more than 700 releases, from mainstream to the avant-garde: how would you describe ENJA's musical orientation?

MW: Difficult, I often get accused of not having a real line in the music. Maybe high quality is the only connecting feature. For many years I only recorded what I really liked, what turned me on. Lousy business plan, I know.

AAJ: ENJA has also put forward some historic jazz figures who have perhaps been slightly undervalued in Europe, such as Charlie Mariano
Charlie Mariano
Charlie Mariano
1923 - 2009
, Art Farmer
Art Farmer
Art Farmer
1928 - 1999
, Eddie Gomez
Eddie Gomez
Eddie Gomez
and Flanagan. What do you feel is the inheritance from these masters?

MW: It's the most important feature of my catalog. Flanagan, for example, was a quiet, beautiful person and brilliant player; full of the greatest ideas packaged in a slightly conservative form. It's the exact opposite of rock star who must turn on huge crowds. I think jazz is a much more private music than many others are.

AAJ: Lucien Dubuis
Lucien Dubuis
Lucien Dubuis

sax, alto
, Vincent Courtois, Nils Wogram, Pascal Schumacher, Gabriele Mirabassi... ENJA pays attention to contemporary European jazz musicians, too. What are your criteria to select new players? Since you know the US and European jazz scenes, how would you compare them?

MW: We quite live in different worlds, in the US and Europe. Here jazz is much more accepted as a great art form and in the media as well. This is only beginning to be understood in the US. Europe is so rich these days—too rich?—in well-educated, highly gifted musicians. Of course it's the same in the US.

Anyway comparisons do not make much sense: we are not in sports. Europe does have a much broader media scene, which used to be even broader some thirty years ago, as we all know. But still the amount of jazz on the air is so much more than in the US.

AAJ: Forgetting Abou-Khalil for a moment, who has been with the label for more than twenty years, it looks as if ENJA has recently opened its catalog to ethno-jazz artists like Rudresh Mahanthappa
Rudresh Mahanthappa
Rudresh Mahanthappa
sax, alto
, Akyol Aly Keita and Dhafer Youssef . Is it really a "new" orientation for ENJA?

MW: Not really. I never wanted to run a jazz museum of older jazz. I am always looking for personalities, no matter their style. The latest example is pianist Malcolm Braff, son of an American missionary, born and brought up in Brazil, then West Africa, and finally settled in Switzerland now; what a new , original voice.

AAJ: How do you see the influence of the world music on jazz?

MW: I think jazz rather influences world music, through the improvisation which has become central.

AAJ: ENJA, ECM, Winter & Winter, ACT... How could you explain the creativity among German independent labels?

MW: Well, I think it has to do with the general acceptance here, but also with the support you get from the five national radio stations. Several of our heavier productions with excellent but hard-to-sell artists would have been impossible without the financial support, for example, of WDR in Cologne, like composer Klaus Koenig's five great works.

AAJ: Amongst the albums recorded by ENJA, what is the split between studio and live recordings?

MW: I think around 25% live.

AAJ: From analog to digital, and from LPs to MP3, the way to record and the support have completely changed over time. Do you see an impact of those technical changes on jazz music itself?

MW: Not really. One thing is important, though. In the old days you did two-track recordings, and it means that what was recorded was the finished take. The group had to have highest concentration and intensity. These days, with the multi-track technology, everybody can choose to record their solos over and over. This leans more to a compositional approach and sometimes lowers the excitement.

AAJ: How have the music markets and, more particularly, the jazz market evolved with those technological changes?

MW: We are also busy in the download world, which has becomes more and more important—nowadays, about 15% of our sales.

AAJ: How has ENJA been adapting to the digital era?

MW: About 70 % of the back catalog has been transferred to digital. We are proud of the ENJA Master Series, the analog productions that we have recently transferred, with contemporary high quality technology, to digital.

AAJ: If you wanted to bring someone to jazz, what ENJA recordings would you recommend?

MW: Well, we have about seven hundreds and they all might have their impact ...I hope

Selected Discography

Malcom Braff, Inside (ENJA, 2011)
Pascal Schumacher, Bang My Can (ENJA, 2011)
Roberto Fonseca, Zamazu (ENJA, 2007)
Eric Dolphy, Stockholm Sessions (ENJA, 2007)
Charles Mingus, Mingus In Europe (ENJA, 2004)
Abdullah Ibrahim, African Magic (ENJA, 2002)
Dhafer Yussef, Electric Sufi (ENJA, 2001)
Antonio Farao, Thorn (ENJA, 2000)
Rabih Abou-Khalil, Arabian Waltz (ENJA, 1996)
Fred Hersch, Point In Time (ENJA, 1995)
Kenny Barron, Quickstep (ENJA, 1991)
Chet Baker, My Favorite Songs (ENJA, 1988)
John Scofield, Shinola (ENJA, 1981)
Attila Zoller, Overcome (ENJA, 1979)
Mal Waldron, One-Upmanship (ENJA, 1978)
Cecil Taylor, Air Above Mountains (ENJA, 1976)
Archie Shepp, Steam (ENJA, 1976)
Jeremy Steig & Eddie Gomez, Outlaws (ENJA, 1976)

Photo Credit

S. Pakzad

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