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Skirl Records Visits Philadelphia

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We are in a period when more and more people download their music via the internet; important retailers such as Tower Records are shutting their doors; and blank CDs outsold pre-recorded CDs last year. Yet, Chris Speed—a multi-instrumentalist and longtime member of New York's downtown scene—has undertaken the Herculean task of starting an independent record label with the launch of Skirl Records.

On December 15, 2006, Speed and several bands on his label came to Philadelphia for a CD release party. The evening of music was presented by the Ars Nova Workshop, which continues to be Philly's only avenue to hear avant-garde music.

Speed faces the quandary of distributing a genre of music to an audience that finds it nearly impossible to hear such sounds played live if they reside outside New York City. This obstacle is merely one of a myriad of challenges that await his new venture. Speed's tacit acknowledgement that he was stepping into a rapidly changing marketplace came when he advised audience members' "CDs were for sale at the show, or they could be downloaded at iTunes.

The night featured three bands, each playing approximately a thirty-minute set. In order, they were Trevor Dunn & Shelley Bergon, The New Mellow Edwards, and The Clarinets. In addition, Andrew D'Angelo performed one tune after releasing a diatribe against Homeland Security, expressing his outrage over the difficulties guitarist Hilmar Jensen was having obtaining a visa to perform in the United States. Jensen, from Iceland, is a member, along with D'Angelo, of the band TYFT, which records on the Skirl label.

There was a moment of levity following D'Angelo's angry rant, when he paused to remove one of his teeth and placed it in a case before starting to play. After a scorching, extended solo on alto, D'Angelo was joined on stage by Trevor Dunn on bass and Mike Pride on drums for the remainder of the tune.

The highlight of the night was the set by trombonist Curtis Hasselbring's The New Mellow Edwards. Joined by Trevor Dunn on bass, Mike Pride on drums and Speed on reeds, Hasselbring played several selections from his debut release. The compositions were dense, complex pieces, containing unique patterns that shifted between Mingus-like charts and raw, frenetically paced rock blasts. As inharmonious as this mix may sound, it all came together beautifully.

In fact, the set sounded so good, I'm encouraged to download the CD to my iPod. It may be an uphill struggle, but Chris Speed is off to a running start.

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