Abstract Logix's Souvik Dutta: From Living Room to Center of the Universe

Ian Patterson By

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Although tribes, cities and even nations have all at various times claimed to lie at the center of the universe, few have taken the claims seriously. Most recognize such boasts as either thinly veiled marketing ploys or thinly veiled insanity. However, on the 20th and 21st of November, devotees of good music from Australia, Japan, South Africa and Europe, as well as from the States and Canada will join in musical celebration in North Carolina, home to Abstract Logix and the center of the "New Musical Universe."

Ok, so it's really a marketing ploy after all. However, to the pilgrims descending on North Carolina for those two days in November for Abstract Logix's New Universe Music Festival—where they will see John McLaughlin & the Fourth Dimension, and bands led by Lenny White, Jimmy Herring, Wayne Krantz, Ranjit Barot, Scott Kinsey and Alex Machacek—the center of the musical universe couldn't possibly be anywhere else. In just a few short years, this small, independent record company run by Souvik Dutta       has built up an impressive roster of musicians which would be the envy of much larger, greedier companies. The story of Abstract Logix is an inspiring one, and an example to others in the music business that the rewards are there for those who put the music and the musician before anything else. When music drives the business, as opposed to the other way around, everyone's a winner.

It all started one day—when the planets aligned—with a jam session in a living room.

Souvik Dutta was born in India but came to the United States at the age of 18, in 1991, to round off his education, which he duly did by graduating with a degree in computer science. Dutta had played in a high school band, listened to all genres of music and went to gigs with his friends whenever he could; he was a bona fide music nut. Dutta takes up the story: "What happened was, in '02 I had a little house concert with Shawn Lane, Jonas Hellborg and Jeff Sipe. It was just a little house concert and we somehow made the concert available on the internet so people could see it live. We had to come up with a website to post the link, and that's really how Abstract Logix started. Back then, I had no interest in any kind of business or label or anything like that whatsoever. It was just fun."

Just fun, perhaps, but the seeds had been planted and would take deep root. Of course, Dutta had no idea where it was all leading, but nevertheless, whenever bands came through the area he would write a little news blog and place an article or maybe a video to spread the word. Things continued this way for a while until 2003, when Dutta went knocking on a door. The door was that of master tabla player Zakir Hussain, who was about to tour the States with John McLaughlin and Remember Shakti. Dutta asked if they had anyone to sell their merchandise on the road, and if not, well, he knew someone who'd be more than happy to do so.

Hussain's office put Dutta in touch with McLaughlin's people, and they said that the gig was his. With a month's vacation from work, Dutta and a friend traveled around the country, selling merchandising for Remember Shakti and having a whale of a time in the bargain: "It was fun," recalls Dutta. "We got to see music we loved and we got to meet John and everybody else. John was really happy. With the little bit of money I made from the tour, I just put it back into the website and I built a little bit bigger version."

By now Abstract Logix was starting to sell a few items on the internet; from five CDs it grew to 50, and from 50 to 100. The big breakthrough, the point of no return, came the following year, when Dutta got a call out of the blue. It was John McLaughlin, asking Dutta if Abstract Logix would be interested in selling his promotional DVD This is the Way I Do It (Mediastarz, 2004). "I didn't really believe it was him," says Dutta. "I thought somebody was playing a joke on me. I even hung up the phone the first time because I thought someone was pulling my leg." McLaughlin was serious though. Tired of large company hoops and shenanigans, he was looking for a way to release his music independently. Dutta didn't need to think for too long: "I said sure. It was one of my idols asking me to do it, and it was not a lot of work. It was a very popular item, and the profit that I made from selling the stuff for John, I reinvested again in the website and made it a little big bigger and a little bit nicer."

Although the beginnings of Abstract Logix evolved in a quite natural, organic way, Dutta admits that he still had no goal in his mind as to where he wanted to take the company: "I was just one little shop on the internet, selling some stuff by other people." Nevertheless, the company was slowly growing, and by now Abstract Logix had gone from selling a handful of CDs to selling them in their hundreds. Then along came another unexpected turn in the story: "What happened was that Jeff Sipe—who's a very close friend of mine—and Jimmy Herring, told me they had done this sort of avant- garde project, called Project Z: Lincoln Memorial (Abstract Logix, 2005), which they wanted to sell on my site. By that time—and it was something which I wasn't really aware of—people had got to know of us, this little shop on the internet that sells stuff for John McLaughlin and some other people. I had built a relationship with City Hall distributor in the United States, and the next time I saw Jeff I said maybe I could distribute it around the country. So I bought the record for a very small amount of money, and that was the first record that I distributed as a label in the country. "

That first record on Abstract Logix's label was the foot in the door, though as Dutta recalls with some amusement, he had no idea of what lay on the other side of the door: "I had no experience of record distribution. I didn't know what I was doing."

Something that Dutta has always had, however, is an ear for good music and an unerring judgment. The first time Dutta met Shawn Lane at the party in his house, which was the site of conception and accidental birthplace of Abstract Logix, Lane turned him on to a young guitarist who had particularly impressed him when Lane was performing in Vienna. Lane's enthusiasm for guitarist Alex Machacek was such that Dutta did indeed check him out, though with no idea at the time of turning a profit: "It was in no sort of a business sense," Souvik says, "because Abstract Logix didn't exist." However, as soon as he was able to listen to Machacek's music, he understood Lane's excitement: "The first time I heard Alex, I knew this guy was special—there was no doubt."

Machacek would send copies of his CD Featuring Ourselves (Next Generation Enterprises, 1999) from Austria, and Dutta would sell it. The relationship grew and has continued to grow and bear fruit to this day: "He was writing a new record called [sic] (Abstract Logix, 2006) and he had just moved to the United States," relates Dutta. "Nobody knew who he was and no record company had any interest in releasing his music." Abstract Logix put out [sic] to great reviews in the music press, announcing the arrival of a major new voice on electric guitar. Machacek has since released a number of critically acclaimed CDs on Abstract Logix, including the extraordinary 24 Tales (Abstract Logix, 2010), an ambitious, recomposed work based around a 51-minute drum solo by Marco Minneman. The range and depth of the music—recomposed and improvised—attests to Machacek's status as one of the most innovative and daring composers/musicians on the jazz/fusion scene. Not for nothing did John McLaughlin say of the guitarist: "Alex Machacek's music starts where other music ends."

People were gradually getting to know Abstract Logix, largely through the label's distribution of John McLaughlin's DVD, though another tour selling merchandise for Remember Shakti—this time through Asia— enabled Dutta to spread the name of the label still further. "I worked very hard to make Abstract Logix known to people who like this kind of music," explains Souvik. "I would take out little ads and make postcards and give them to people at the McLaughlin concerts, and that's how I spread the word about the company." In addition, Abstract Logix built up a relationship with distribution companies in Japan as well as Europe, and the music began to gain a wider audience. Today, around 60 percent of Abstract Logix's business is outside the United States.

Musicians too, began to see Abstract Logix as a good company to represent their best interests, as Dutta explains: "Things started to happen, man; I got a phone call from Scott Kinsey, and people started to approach me who maybe didn't have a large record company to release their stuff, and I just started to do it one by one."

Former Tribal Tech and Joe Zawinul Syndicate keyboardist Kinsey found exactly the type of support and appreciation of his music at Abstract Logix that is rare to find in larger record companies. Having waited years to make a solo album, Kinsey was somewhat surprised with the speed of Dutta's response once he had heard the music, as he explains in this excerpt from a 2006 interview with All About Jazz: "Within a day he [Dutta] had a release date for me. He had the distributor saying that he had some art work started. He had all this stuff happening. Everything moved extremely fast and that was the main thing I was looking for. I wanted things to happen ASAP because I had waited way too long. For years, people have been asking me about it on tours and I kept saying, 'I don't know.' I was sick of that. Souvik just made it happen."

"The situation was very good from the start," continues Kinsey, "because he didn't want to buy the record like every other label on the planet who will give you a certain amount of money to own the master. He never wanted to go there. He realizes that this is your music, you've worked hard on it and you should own it. I just like the guy, the organization. Even though they're small, they care. They're interested and they put the time and effort in. I'm very happy with that."

Kinsey put the word out to his old Tribal Tech buddy, bassist Gary Willis, who contacted Dutta with the result that his own CD Actual Fiction (Abstract Logix, 2008) was released on the label, preceded not long before by Slaughterhouse 3 (Abstract Logix, 2007), an exhilarating collaboration between Willis, drummer Kirk Covington and Spanish saxophonist Llibert Fortuny Electric
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