Dave Stapleton: Edition Records Takes Flight
“ I'm a great believer in trust and loyalty. If there's trust there, on both sides, then that's enough. I'm friends with these people as well; it's not just a business relationship. We're all working for the same cause. ”
Any discussion of successful independent jazz record labels of the twentieth century will readily encompass musical icons such as Blue Note, Impulse! and ECM. Cardiff-based Edition Records is already a likely contender for the same discussion applied to labels that have arisen in the 21st century, even though its first release didn't appear until 2008. A key figure in the success of the label is co-owner and Artistic Director Dave Stapleton, who also happens to be one of the label's most creative recording artists. On his 2012 Edition Records album, Flight, Stapleton brings together classical and jazz players to fulfill a long-held ambition.
Stapleton graduated from the Royal Welsh College Of Music And Drama in 2002, with a degree in classical piano. After graduation, he embarked on a musical career that has drawn on classical music and jazz but has stayed resolutely away from neat or easy categorization. He established the Dave Stapleton Quintet in 2004 and has released three albums with that band. He's also collaborated with many other musicians including pianist Matthew Bourne, on Dismantling The Waterfall (Edition Records, 2008), and composer/sound designer Deri Roberts, on The Conway Suite (Red Eye Music, 2005).
As if his burgeoning career as a composer and musician wasn't enough, Stapleton and his business partner, photographer Tim Dickeson, decided to establish a record label. Edition Records came into being in 2008: Stapleton and Bourne's Dismantling The Waterfall getting the label's first catalog number, EDN1001. Since that first release, Stapleton and Dickeson have built up an impressive roster of over 30 albums from acts including Phronesis, McCormack and Yarde Duo, Marius Neseta featured player on Flightand Troyka. The label has also re-released three of Stapleton's earlier albums. Stapleton and Dickeson have taken charge of marketing, distribution, artist development and a host of other activities that are vital to the health of a record label. As Edition Records grows and develops, Stapleton continues as its Artistic Director, but his own musical career as a composer and performer also continues apace.
Flight is one of Stapleton's most ambitious projects so far; indeed, for many composers it would be a project that demands full-time concentration. How does it fit with running a record label? Stapleton doesn't downplay the difficulties in juggling the two activities, plus everything else involved in the life of someone with a young family, but he does come across as someone with an impressive work ethic and an eye for the medium to long haul as well as the short term. Flight wasn't brought to fruition overnight, as he explained on the telephone from his home.
"I've always wanted to write for strings and a jazz quartet but I never felt that I had the ability," Stapleton recounts. "A lot of the time, when I'm writing, I have ideas that get put to one side, into a box, then when I'm getting a project together I'll look in the box and see what's there. So it's hard to say what came first. I knew I wanted to get something quite free and organic, blurring the improvised and the composed. I also knew the instrumentation I wanted. Once I knew the musicians who would be playing it was then a question of the music. I decided quite early on that it was going to relate to flight, to what has become the cover picture. Then it all came together: quite an organic process for once."
Flight's cover picture, of an albatross soaring over a stark and unforgiving ocean, has an instantly recognizable link with many other Edition records album covers. There is a distinct house style that can be seen in the majority of the label's cover designsa reflection of the fact that both Stapleton and Dickeson are accomplished photographers. The picture isn't a bespoke Edition photograph however; it was taken in 1974 during the Whitbread Round The World yacht race. Stapleton's father had taken part in two legs of the race, from Sydney to Southampton and the photo, taken by a fellow crew member, was part of the Stapleton family's collection.
Stapleton may have gained inspiration from his father's adventure and the photograph, but he didn't start completely afresh when composing the music. "There are pieces on Flight that I wrote six or seven years ago, pieces that I didn't do anything with as they weren't right for my quintet or for anything else at the time. Most of Flight, around 60-70%, is new music. I wrote the piano theme on 'Henryk' in about 2006. I tried it out with the quintet but it never really worked. That's the oldest piece on the album."
The decision to bring together players from the classical and jazz worlds was there at the beginning, and brings a longstanding desire to fruition for Stapleton. "From the start I wanted a string quartet and jazz players. I trained as a classical pianist so classical music has always been a big part of my life. I met this group, the Brodowski String Quartet, by chance. They seemed right for the project and once they were onboard I started to find the jazz players."
What is it that makes the Brodowski String Quartet right? "Classical musicians and jazz musicians are worlds apart in the way they present themselves, their approach to musiceven the way they hang out backstage," Stapleton explains. "I met the quartet when it came to a school where I teach, although it turns out that I was at college with the sister of Catrin Win Morgan, the second violinist. I gave the musicians some music I had already written, they took it away and tried it out and liked it. The chemistry just felt right. They're into contemporary East European music. So there were lots of reasons why I felt they would fit."
The serendipitous meeting with the Brodowski String Quartet reflects the positive nature of the project as a whole, as Stapleton says: "All along with this project things felt right. It's an important thing for me, how things feel. I'm very instinctive like that."