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Astral Spirits: Lifting the Spirit of Jazz

Astral Spirits: Lifting the Spirit of Jazz
Jakob Baekgaard By

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I want to release albums that are both challenging musically and to sell. Albums that make people do a double-take or wonder what they are listening to rather than something that just follows along a particular genre specific path. —Nate Cross
While pop often follows predictable musical patterns, one of the greatest qualities about jazz is its sense of adventurousness and the ability to take the listener on a journey where the destination is unknown. The Astral Spirits label, based in Austin, Texas, and run by musician Nate Cross, truly embraces this quality of jazz.

This year, 2019, the label celebrates its five-year anniversary and the quality and scope of the catalog is already dazzling with 100+ releases that span all kinds of sounds that Cross overall characterizes with the tagline "The New Wave of Heavy Free Jazz." But make no mistake, listeners scared away by wailing saxophones and distorted guitars will also find something to like on Astral Spirits. It's just a matter of exploration and there is plenty to explore on the label. Cross releases music in several physical formats and even has a digital imprint, Astral Editions, with a subscription plan. Such Chicago jazz scene heavyweights as Hamid Drake, Chad Taylor, Jeb Bishop, Rob Mazurek, Matthew Lux and Ken Vandermark have recorded for the label and new Chicago profiles like drummer Charles Rumback, guitarist Tim Stine and saxophonists Dustin Laurenzi and Nick Mazzarella are represented as well. Big names like guitarist Thurston Moore and saxophonist Joe McPhee also feature, but Astral Spirits is less about the names and more about the spirit of the music that transcends genres and geography. It's natural for Cross to be curious about music and spread the joy of new sounds, and it all goes back to a record store in Bloomington.

All About Jazz: Could you tell about your own background and how you got into experimental jazz and improvisation?

Astral Spirits: I grew up in Fort Wayne, IN which is a pretty typical midwestern Indiana town and as you can imagine I didn't get a lot of exposure to jazz or improvisation beyond High School Jazz Band. I took piano lessons as a kid, and then started playing guitar around 13 years old. Most of my early exposure to music was through my brothers who were a bit older than me and through a good friend whose dad played in a cover band (which when we were 13 seemed pretty cool). My friend and I would play guitar and drums together in their basement and eventually started a band in high school, which for Fort Wayne was a little "weird." Leaving Fort Wayne and heading to college at IU in Bloomington, IN was where the awakening took place.

All About Jazz: What happened then?

There is a record store in Bloomington (that is still there, but the owner Tom Donahue has since passed away) called TD's CD's & LP's, and Tom was this amazing guy who was the quintessential record store owner. I'd buy a Chicago Underground Duo album or something similar and he'd tell me "oh have you heard of the DKV Trio? or these Fred Anderson reissues? or this Mats Gustafsson/David Grubbs album? or Jim O'Rourke?" (Funny side story: Tom also spent some time in Austin in the 80's and did not like it at all...I remember him getting mad when I told him I was moving to Austin, and he'd tell me what was so terrible about it. Ha)

BUT, a lot of my formative listening was thanks to Tom (and I would bet a lot of money that there were a lot of folks who owe their musical taste to Tom). Bloomington was also where I saw Peter Brötzmann (with William Parker and Hamid Drake) for the first time, I saw a local group recreate Miles Davis' "Dark Magus" and so many other amazing things. Not to mention weekend trips to Chicago to see all kinds of amazing things including going to the Velvet Lounge.

AAJ: When did you form the label and was there any particular reason why it happened?

AS: I started Astral Spirits in September 2014. Initially it grew out of a desire to continue to take part in the music industry. I spent a healthy amount of time in the mid-late 2000's touring with bands etc and as I got a little older and more settled, I was hoping to find a way to stay involved in music without as much touring. It was a blast, but I was hitting a point where I wanted something a little more steady.

I also had an idea of trying to do shows or a series of some kind in Austin, especially after years of going to Epistrophy Arts shows etc. After talking with a few folks, I ended up getting involved with Morgan Coy and Monofonus Press. He sorta helped steer me away from shows and into doing more of a traditional record label, which I think I wanted to do more of a traditional label, I just didn't have the experience and was nervous about the idea. Morgan and the rest of the Monofonus crew (Cory Plump & Will Slack) helped get me up and running and helped me learn & grow a ton over the last 5 years.

AAJ: Could you tell a bit more about your connection with the Monofonus Press?

AS: Monofonus Press is my parent (or sister) label. Morgan started Monofonus Press 12 years ago to put out records as well as books, zines, and more. Basically, Monofonus Press took on Astral Spirits as a sister/parent/sub label which was great to have the additional support to get Astral up and running. Monofonus focused more on rock, experimental and outsider music, so it made sense for them to bring on Astral Spirits as a sub label since there was some crossover potential for new listeners through each label. However, Monofonus Press is closing at the end of 2019, so I'll be off on my own starting in 2020.

AAJ: Speaking of being on your own, how many people are involved in running the label?

AS: Astral Spirits is a one-man operation for better or worse. For the first 4 years I had a healthy amount of help from Morgan, Cory, and Will from Monofonus Press but in the end, it's pretty much always been just me, all press, shipping, website, etc is done in house by myself. Now I want to be clear that I'm not trying to be high and mighty about this, I definitely understand the benefits of hiring PR firms, or fulfillment, etc, I've had both good and bad experiences with that in the past, but I feel pretty comfortable handling it all myself at the moment. It's a lot of work and hard to juggle at times (especially with family, dayjob, etc) but I've purposefully kept it a solo endeavor because I want to maintain control over the label's growth and scope. I will include Jaimie Zuverza (who does the main share of art & layout) and Nick LaRoche (who does some layout/art as well as all the photography that you see on the website/bandcamp).

AAJ: How is a day at work for you? How many different things do you have to take care of when you run a label?

AS: Well, a typical day at work for me is going to work at my dayjob from 8-5, then getting kids fed and into bed after work, and then I try to find time between 8pm-12am or so to do the shipping and other day to day operations. So I wouldn't say I'm the typical label owner, but it also depends on which sort of label we're talking about.

I've never meant for the label to be my job that I make a living from, it's been more of a hobby that's turned into a thing. But truly I think separating myself from the "need" to make a living off it keeps it exciting and allows me a little more freedom and more leeway to play a curatorial role as opposed to it being a side hustle. I also like having a dayjob and family that is completely separate from my life running the label. Sure, things overlap in certain ways, but being able to step away from the label when needed, and not having to focus 100% of my time onto it gives me a lot of good perspective on why I want to keep doing it.

AAJ: Do you have other projects or initiatives besides running a label? Are you interested in art in general and do you see a connection between what you do and the art scene?

AS: Outside of the label itself I still play music, it's just in a non-jazz vein. Most significantly at the moment I play with the group USA/Mexico (with Craig Clouse of Shit & Shine and King Coffey of Butthole Surfers). It's incredibly fun (and humbling) to play with those two folks...and similarly playing music completely outside of jazz is a nice way to step back and see a different perspective.

I do love art in general and was particularly fascinated by film in college (it was one of my majors at IU) and I am still fascinated by film, although I don't have quite as much time with kids these days. I would say that I try my best to run Astral Spirits with a sense of an art scene: lots of deliberate curation, trying to run the label with a sense of what it will look like or be a part of in the grand scheme of improv music and jazz music. I'm only 5 years in so I've just made a small dent at best and just hoping to continue down that path.

AAJ: Growing up, what kind of labels did you admire, and which labels do you consider kindred spirits now?

AS: Like almost anyone else interested in jazz, I was first drawn to Blue Note and Impulse!—Impulse! was really the one that blew my mind aesthetically and musically, I more or less have copied the look of the LP spine from them in an "homage" to what they did. Eventually I started to come across other more "out" labels that fascinated me—BYG/Actuel, ESP-Disk, Tzadik, India Navigation, Nessa, FMR, AUM Fidelity, No Business Records and so many more. It always seemed like the labels I loved had a very distinct design or look.

I'd also say that growing up in the midwest (Indiana to be exact) in the 90's/early 2000's, the Chicago jazz scene had a rather profound impact on me (and still does), especially labels like Okka Disk, Delmark, Eremite, Hefty (let's not forget that Hefty released those Phil Ranelin/Tribe albums in the 2000's!), Atavistic's Unheard Music Series, Thrill Jockey, and Drag City. Also going to college in Bloomington, IN in that time period I was able to sorta see the growth of these small indie labels up close. Secretly Canadian and Jagjaguwar were "big indies" then, but they are huge now. Also in that same time frame was when Eric Weddle's amazing Family Vineyard label was taking off.

As far as modern day kindred spirit labels, it's been amazing to watch International Anthem grow and become this amazing label in more or less the same time frame as when I started. It's great to see that there is a lot wider space (and audience) now for what can be under the "jazz" label. I'd love to say that Family Vineyard is now a kindred spirit since we recently did the Jim Sauter & Kid Millions Safe & Sane LP together. Also Northern Spy, Trouble In Mind, Open Mouth, Feeding Tube, and plenty of tape labels— Hausu Mountain, Fort Evil Fruit, Null Zone/Garden Portal, Tombed Visions, Mondoj, Weekertoft. I'm funnily hesitant to tag too many labels that I don't know personally, but hopeful that one day I'll be considered kindred spirits with lots of them. Always room to grow!

AAJ: What's the story behind the name of the label? Do you consider yourself a spiritual jazz label?

AS: I named the label after one of my favorite songs by Joe McPhee! "Astral Spirits" first appeared on his Trinity album, but there are also plenty of later versions on Oleo and more. I liked the "astral" or otherworldly connotations without really being overtly a spiritual jazz label.

AAJ: How would you describe the sound and aesthetic of the label then?

AS: In the past I've used the tagline "The New Wave of Heavy Free Jazz" and I still think that works as a general aesthetic description. I also just like to simply think that the label is for folks who are curious for new and exciting sounds. I think there are plenty of releases on Astral that would be considered "heavy" or even "free jazz" and I like that. I think it's good to try new things, keep shifting things up and not get too comfortable. I'm even working on some releases in 2020 for folks that would probably hate to be considered "jazz," ha!

AAJ: How do you find your artists? What kind of artists are you looking for?

AS: This is kind of hard to answer. I get a lot of submissions from artists I know and that is really exciting to get to work with folks that I admire and love. I also love getting submissions from artists I don't know because it's always fun to find new artists. Again, in the same aesthetic description sense, I'd like to think that I'm looking for "curious" artists, or artists that are trying to do new or interesting out of the ordinary things. I want to release albums that are both challenging musically and to sell. Albums that make people do a double-take or wonder what they are listening to rather than something that just follows along a particular genre specific path.

I read a great interview recently between Bill Nace and Bill MacKay and they talk about the differences in buying records. Back in the day when you'd just see a record in a store (or even in a magazine pre-internet), you'd wonder what it sounded like based on the art, or band name or people involved. You'd have to ask the record store clerk or your friends for more info, or be curious to find out more. Compared to current times when each new release comes with a five paragraph description about why it's "essential" or a "modern classic" and you can immediately listen to samples etc. We're just overwhelmed with information up front now that it sorta takes away our ability to be curious or make our own judgements about records.

I don't mean this in a "back in my day, things were better" way, rather I think there are things we can do to try and slow down and remember why we want to buy that record or listen to the music in the first place. When writing press releases, I try my best to keep it succinct and with as little hyperbole as possible, but I still catch myself falling into that trap.

AAJ: Could you talk about some of the key artists and albums that have been important in terms of shaping the development of the label?

AS: Meeting and working with Quin Kirchner has been a pretty important step in terms of shaping some of the label. We've worked with him on each and every Spacetone Recordings album (his label) and I think we've created a nice space to highlight a lot of Chicago jazz: his first solo album The Other Side of Time, Nick Mazzarella Trio Counterbalance, the upcoming KVL Volume 1 release next month and even the Dustin Laurenzi Snaketime: Music of Moondog album that he played on.

I think the other obvious one would be Rob Mazurek. I've released 5 albums with Rob over the past few years and even been able to help him with his Desert Encrypts Festival in Marfa, TX as well. Rob has had an incredible influence on the label not only through his music but through his recommendations (he's the one that got me in touch with Matthew Lux about releasing his Contra/Fact album!) and his amazing and brilliant spirit.

Some important artists that I think are worth following in the future on Astral Spirits AND many other labels include: Claire Rousay, Charles Rumback, Luke Stewart, Macie Stewart & Lia Kohl, Brandon Seabrook and much more.

AAJ: You are based in Austin, Texas. Could you tell about the environment for jazz and experimental music in the city. Are there any scenes you feel part of or a special vibe?

AS: As far as scenes go in Austin, the jazz/experimental scene is on the smaller side of "scenes" so most folks know each other and tend to be incredibly supportive. There is also a bigger focus on crossover, or less focus on a particular "genre." Similarly, although the audience might not be gigantic, they are very open to new sounds and music. The "Keep Austin Weird" slogan is a terrible cliche now, but I think there is some truth to it...Austin has always felt very open and supportive to more creative music. Sure things are changing as the city grows, but with that growth has also brought more folks interested in challenging and creative music.

AAJ: Which jazz venues would you recommend in Austin? Are there any places where artists from your label often play?

AS: I wouldn't necessarily recommend a particular venue in Austin, there are a few jazz clubs, but they tend to be a bit too safe/straight ahead for my personal tastes. Luckily there are a lot of really great organizers and performance series' that take place in Austin throughout the year including (but certainly not limited to):

Epistrophy Arts (run by Pedro Moreno for 20+ years, the godfather of jazz in Austin), No Idea Festival (run by Chris Cogburn, again been going on for 16+ years), Me-Mer-Mo Mondays at the Volstead (run by Melissa Seely. This might be one of the most important of them all because it is every single Monday and gives space to performers outside of the more traditional venues. I love bringing Astral Spirits artists to town to play Me-Mer-Mo, always great), Antumbrae Intermedia (run by Tara Bhattacharya Reed), Liminal Sound Series (run by Bob Hoffnar), Sonic Transmissions (run by Ingebrigt Haker-Flaten, now in it's 4th year. Full disclosure I have helped co-curate and run Sonic Transmissions with Ingebrigt for the last 2 years), Monks Jazz Club (run by a great local pianist Collin Shook, not actually a club but a series that takes place at various venues. Again, this is a great series that showcases some touring acts as well as a lot of local talent. Not fully "way out" but definitely more forward thinking)

AAJ: What is your take on the use of digital technology? You both release physical and digital editions. What are your thoughts about the difference between releasing music digitally and physically? What are the pros and cons of both approaches?

AS: I would say that I primarily release physical editions (I've released over 100 different physical products in the past 5 years), they just tend to be in limited quantities. I do also release everything digitally as well, including our digital only offshoot label Astral Editions. People always say "digital is the future," which I think is probably mostly true. I don't think that physical media will die out entirely, but we're seeing a time where artists that used to sell 5,000-10,000 copies of an album are now selling 500-1,000.

I think embracing digital technology in terms of distributing music and getting it out into the world is pretty important. There are definitely some distinctions I make because digital technology covers a lot of ground these days. I make everything available to purchase digitally via iTunes, Bandcamp, Boomkat, Amazon, etc because at least this way people are still purchasing an album. I can't ignore an entire potential revenue stream just because some people don't like digital, especially when sales of physical products are just down so much from 10-20 years ago.

AAJ: Could you tell about some of your most special physical products? I know you released a VHS-tape by Matthew Lux one time.

AS: Joe McPhee's Zurich (1979) LP is definitely the most "special" release I've done. Just having the honor of releasing something by Mr. McPhee, especially since the label is named after one of his songs AND especially because it was a beautiful archival release that hadn't seen the light of day.

We did a limited run of 250 LP's, but I had my friends at Bearded Lady Screenprinting hand screen print all of the LP covers (which was a beautiful collage by Mason McFee, no relation), then I had stamps made and hand stamped the back of every single jacket and every single LP and finally hand numbered each one. We also had the amazing local artist/musician Tim Kerr paint a portrait of Joe McPhee (from a photo that Joe sent me from around the same time as the recordings) that we turned into a poster that was included in the release. It was a really time consuming process, but also really special and fun. I'm not sure I could do that for every release BUT I am hoping to do some more of these one-off "art edition" LP's in the future.

AAJ: These days, the opinions about streaming services seem to differ a lot. As I understand it, you're not on any streaming services currently. What is your take on this issue?

AS: I do not (for the most part) do streaming via Spotify and other streaming services (unless the artist specifically requests it) because I don't find them to be very friendly to artists or small labels. The revenue stream is more of a revenue drip. Streaming is set up to favor the bigger companies and bigger artists, and the main argument for smaller labels to join streaming is the same tired "you'll get exposure" argument. The whole system seems to be evaluated and categorized by how many plays, likes, etc you get rather than celebrate new music.

And as a small aside, the reason I love Bandcamp so much is that they do a really amazing job with their writing on music etc to really focus on new and interesting music that doesn't get as much exposure in other outlets.

It's true that more people use streaming these days than ever (another symptom of falling physical sales) and likely one day I'll jump on board, I don't want to cut off my nose to spite my face. BUT I just don't think it benefits Astral Spirits in any meaningful way at this point in time, so I don't participate. I'd like to find a way that it might actually make sense or feel right, I just haven't found what I'm looking for yet.

AAJ: If you think about the development of the music business in general, how would you characterize the changes that you have been through? What kind of adjustments have you made and what do you do to survive as an independent label?

AS: I think right now is a particularly challenging time for labels and the music business in general. In the same breath challenging times always end up bringing new solutions and ideas.

One example I think about often is that we're seeing this intense decline in physical purchases of music in conjunction with an oversaturation of the market with physical products. The perfect example of this is reissue labels. I love a good reissue label, Numero Group, Light in the Attic, Awesome Tapes from Africa, etc release amazing and tasteful records, but like any trend people start piling on. And now we have reissue labels that are putting out a repressed 180 gram double LP of the Home Alone soundtrack and selling it for $40...does anyone actually need that?!

And in flooding the market with these "one of a kind reissues" or also all these limited edition record store day exclusives at exorbitant prices kinda cheapens other music out there. Because now my LP's that I price at $16-$20 look like they're cheap and "maybe something's wrong with them because why wouldn't they be priced like everyone else?" Sometimes it feels like labels are pitted unnecessarily against each other to capture this pretty niche market.

As far as adjustments, I have had to raise my prices a bit just to keep up with the curve, but I'm still trying to keep things reasonable. And honestly the biggest thing I try to do is be supportive of other labels that are in the same sorta world as Astral Spirits. I think it's worth working on creating a community and working together, in the end the music is really the only thing that matters. Hopefully we can all use our positions as successful labels to support and spread the music itself!

AAJ: Your visual design is very distinctive. Could you talk about the logo, artwork and design and how you have arrived at your look and tell about the people who have helped creating it?

AS: I knew from the start that I wanted the label to be just as visually striking as musically. I worked with my good friend and amazing artist Mason McFee in the beginning. He created the logo and created the initial tape & LP layouts. He did all the artwork for the first two years' worth of tapes & LP's. I had hired Mason McFee to create the logo and layout templates before I had even started the label. Mason did a handful of different logo designs and this is the one that just popped out at me. It's unique (hand drawn) and very recognizable. Funnily I recently went back through some of the designs Mason did and have thought about pulling out some just for fun and to change things up. There are some other really amazing ones looking back at them in hindsight.

We made a switch after that because Mason just got too busy with other work and luckily I've been using the equally amazing artist Jaime Zuverza ever since. Some folks may recognize Jaime's work from other bigger name artists (like Wooden Shjips, Golden Dawn Arkestra and more), so it's really exciting to have him working with us. His art is definitely a huge part of the labels draw.

For some recent LP's we've also used some other artists from time to time including Bill Nace, Damon Locks, Id M Theft Able and more. But I still think it all fits together nicely within the Astral Spirits "template."

AAJ: The covers seem to find inspiration in surrealism and abstract art. How do you see the connection between the artwork and the music you release?

AS: I think this would be a better question for the artists I use! For the most part I've been using the absolutely amazing Jaime Zuverza, and to his incredible credit he does take the time to actually listen to the music while he's creating the artwork. Even though it's a template you can see that he's actually paying attention or doing these subtle little things that I think do create this relationship between the art and music, even if it is in retrospect.

I've also used Tiny Little Hammers to do artwork for Astral Editions, and a handful of other amazing artists have done art for some one offs including Bill Nace (Alcorn/McPhee/Vandermark), Id M Theft Able (Kuzu), Paco Barba/Harmonipan (Rob Mazurek 'Marfa Trilogy'), Damon Locks (Quin Kirchner & KVL), and more.

AAJ: Do you include additional information like liner notes and photography or video in your releases?

AS: Yes on occasion. I've had Clifford Allen do liner notes for a dozen or so releases, and a few releases have featured some photography inserts/booklets. Most notably I'd say would be the Rodrigo Amado & Chris Corsano No Place To Fall album that has an 8 page booklet with liners from Allen and a lot of great photography. I'd love to work more with photography in the future but I'm not exactly sure how to incorporate it into the current artwork aesthetic.

AAJ: Could you tell about some of the studios you use? What is the perfect sound to you? Do you prefer the studio or live recordings?

AS: Generally speaking, a lot of the recording process is done before I even hear the releases. Most times demos are sent to me just needing mastering or completely finished. HOWEVER, there are a handful of releases that I've made happen by putting people into a studio here in Austin. Both Icepick's Amaranth and Alcorn/McPhee/Vandermark Invitation To A Dream were recorded at Ian Rundell's studio here in Austin. The studio is just a little backhouse in my neighborhood, it is definitely no frills and very DIY, but I love the place. Ian primarily records punk & rock records (a lot of Monofonus Press, 12XU Records, and more recorded here), but I love the way he works. It also rings true to the more DIY ethos I like to have with Astral Spirits.

And I don't know if I have a preference for studio vs. live recordings BUT I tend to like recordings that are a little more "raw" or "live" sounding. I don't want to be so obvious as to blatantly pronounce that it should sound more like punk rock or something BUT I think having the subtle rawness (I just mean this in terms of sound, not the playing) can go a long way. ECM made their "chamber" sound one of its primary traits...when you think of an ECM record it already has a certain sound. I don't think I've gotten that far with Astral Spirits, but I'd love for people to think of it as being more in your face.

AAJ: You mention ECM. Manfred Eicher has a very distinctive role as a producer on his label. What is your role when it comes to the music you release? Do you play an active part as a producer?

AS: There have been a handful of projects with me being a producer of sorts, or maybe more of an executive producer but I try to keep my hands off of the music itself unless the artist wants me involved (and even then it's usually just more about sequencing or something like that).

AAJ: What are your ambitions for the future? Are you optimistic when it comes to the future of jazz and Astral Spirits in particular?

AS: I am indeed optimistic about the future of jazz/improvised music in general, mostly because of the sheer number of really, really good demos that I get. I probably put out about 1/10 of the amount of music that's pitched or sent as unsolicited demos, and honestly a lot of it is really quite good. My only slight worry is that there is a tendency to focus on the "superstars" in jazz. I think we're seeing more press for jazz/improvised music in general but if you look at it all you'll see the same 10-15 names or albums. When in reality there are probably 100's of artists and albums that don't have the same name recognition but deserve attention as much if not moreso. The clicks, likes, spotify playlists, PR companies etc tend to be driving factors in what artists get attention rather than the music itself. But there will always be a healthy underground scene and I think we're seeing that right now especially in improvised/jazz music.

AAJ: You have created an ambitious sampler that tells the story of the first five years of the label. Could you talk about the process of compiling it?

AS: I actually took some inspiration from the Black Truffle label's (incredible label run by Oren Ambarchi) 10 year anniversary compilation that also came out relatively recently, but I quickly realized that I couldn't possibly include tracks (even edits of tracks) from every release over the past 5 years because it would just be insanely long.

I also wanted to use this 5 year anniversary as a way to help raise some additional funds for future releases (I want to try to do a few pretty ambitious things next year) BUT I don't really like the GoFundMe's and other crowdfunding platforms in terms of labels using them. I think they are great for real life type things but for a label it feels disingenuous.

AAJ: Finally, could you tell about your release schedule and some of the future releases on your label?

AS: We have three excellent debut recordings in November to close out 2019:

KVL: Volume 1. The debut release from the long running trio of Quin Kirchner, Daniel Van Duerm & Matthew Lux. With special guest Jaimie Branch on one track as well.

Amirtha Kidambi & Lea Bertucci: Phase Eclipse. Debut release from this incredibly talented duo.

Tetuzi Akiyama/Nicolas Field/Gregor Vidic: Interpersonal Subjectivities. Debut release from the EU/Japan trio with legendary Japanese guitarist Akiyama against the drums/sax duo of Field/Vidic.

We also have a lot of our 2020 releases lined up...don't have a lot of specific release dates but it will include releases from: Mako Sica/Hamid Drake, Quin Kirchner, Sarah Hennies, Kuzu (Rempis/Dorji/Damon), Charles Rumback with Jim Baker & John Tate, Anahuac (3 different releases!), Crazy Doberman, Claire Rousay & Alex Cunningham, Brandon Seabrook / Cooper-Moore / Gerald Cleaver, Macie Stewart & Lia Kohl, Luke Stewart, Otomo Yoshihide & Chris Pitsiokos, and more!

A Guide to the Universe of Astral Spirits

Astral Spirits is lifting the spirit of jazz. The best way to get familiar with the label is to dive into the sampler Astral Ascending: Celebrating five years of Astral Spirits Records (Astral Spirits, 2019). Here follows Nate Cross' own comments to each track on the compilation, originally published as the notes for the album.

  • Quin Kirchner Group: "Together We Can Explore The Furthest Beyond (Live)" Exclusive live track from Quin Kirchner and his expanded nonet at the Hungry Brain in Chicago, this was from Kirchner's LP release show. Look for Kirchner's sophomore LP coming soon!


  • Rob Mazurek: "Love Waves" From Rob Mazurek's recent 2019 release Love Waves Ecstatic Charge.


  • Michael Foster & Ben Bennett: "Lint Crepper" Exclusive track from Michael Foster & Ben Bennett's upcoming 2020 release! An intense followup to their 2017 Astral Spirits tape In It.


  • Rempis / Piet / Daisy: "Live" Exclusive track from the trio that brought us the outstanding Throw Tomatoes album we released back in early 2018.


  • Dustin Laurenzi's Snaketime: "Maybe" Exclusive track recorded live at the same time as the Snaketime LP but not released previously!


  • Berman / Lytton/ Roebke: "Oslo (edit)" Edit of the bonus track off the trio's upcoming/current LP release Trio Discrepancies.


  • Lisa Cameron & Sandy Ewen: "Live in Austin" Exclusive live track from a rare duo gig in ATX. Look for more from this dynamic duo in 2020!


  • Mako Sica/Hamid Drake: "Enchanted City (Live)" Exclusive live track from Mako Sica & Hamid Drake who have returned and will be releasing The Balancing Tear in 2020!! This is a live version of a song that will appear on the album.


  • Harris Eisenstadt Old Growth Forest: "Shaded Canopy" Track from Harris Eisenstadt's 2019 OGF release II with Jeb Bishop, Tony Malaby & Jason Roebke.


  • Spires That In The Sunset Rise: "X Stat Eight" Track from their now OOP early 2019 release House Ecstatic (Cover Your Blood).


  • Patrick Shiroishi: "Your Freedom is More Important Than Their Anger" Exclusive solo track from one of our favorite young saxophone players on the scene. He's been on two different Astral Spirits releases, his Borasisi quartet album we released earlier in 2019 and the upcoming Komeshi Trio (with Noel Mee & Peter Kolovos album that will see the light of day in Oct 2019!


  • Evangelista / Hawkins / Moholo-Moholo / Watts: "FDT" A track from the upcoming 2020 2xCD release of this unbelievable quartet of Karl Alfonso Evangelista, Alexander Hawkins, Louis Moholo-Moholo & Trevor Watts!!! The first recordings of Moholo-Moholo & Watts together in a long long time!


  • Charles Rumback with Ron Miles, Macie Stewart & Nick Macri—"Neve" Exclusive track from this Rumback led quartet featuring fellow Astral alum Macie Stewart and legend Ron Miles! Whether this album sees the light of day on Astral Spirits is to be seen BUT we will have another Charles Rumback album coming in 2020!!


  • Claire Rousay: "Lovers" Exclusive track from Claire Rousay, who we will hear much more from soon with two different duos with Alex Cunningham and Carol Genetti.


  • John Butcher & Stale Liavik Solberg: "Sunshine Harpsichord" Exclusive track from the 2/3's of the group (minus Pat Thomas) that brought us the incredible Fictional Souvenirs album released earlier in 2019.


  • TILTH: "Turquoise Socks" Exclusive track from the duo of Cody Yantis & Nathan McLaughlin. You may remember McLaughlin from the 2017 HMS release we did.


  • Bloor: "Splice (for Arthur Blythe)" From Bloor's debut album Drolleries. Sam Weinberg, Andrew Smiley & Jason Nazary doing amazing things!


  • Brandon Seabrook: "Celibate Cluster" Exclusive solo track from guitar maestro and all around amazing person Brandon Seabrook! We released his String Trio Convulsionaries back in 2018 and we'll have another exciting Seabrook release coming in 2020!


  • Jaap Blonk / Jeb Bishop / Damon Smith/ Weasel Walter: "Live at Williamantic Records" Exclusive track from this mindblowing quartet. We've been lucky to have multiple releases with Jeb Bishop and Damon Smith. Hopefully more soon from them and others in this group.


  • Macie Stewart & Lia Kohl: "Toothpick Bicycle" A track from their Astral Editions album Pocket Full of Bees. Their officially Astral Spirits release coming at you in 2020.


  • Fred Lonberg-Holm / Anton Hatwich / Avreeayl Ra: "Hazmat" Exclusive track from this trio that have all graced various Astral Sprits releases over the last 5 years!


  • Tashi Dorji & Tyler Damon: "First Cut" Track from their 2017 release Live at The Spot +1 Tashi Dorji & Tyler Damon make up 2/3's of KUZU as well and we'll have a brand new LP from them in the not too distant future!


  • Nathan Alexander Pape & Patrick Breiner: "find the sky is a cart" Exclusive track from their upcoming Oct 2019 Astral Editions release Ground Air.


  • Nick Mazzarella Trio: "The Puzzle" Track from their recent Counterbalance LP celebrating 10 years of the Nick Mazzarella trio!


  • Warsaw Improvisers Orchestra: "That (edit)" Track from the 2016 split release with Bouchons d'Oreilles we did. Still love how wild this sounds.


  • Icepick: "Rare Rufescent (edit)" Edit of a track from Icepick's (Nate Wooley, Ingebrigt Håker Flaten, Chris Corsano) 2016 Amaranth LP! Look for a 3rd Icepick album (finally) in 2020!


  • Lotte Anker & Fred Lonberg-Holm: "The Frigid Air" Track from their 2017 split tape release.


  • Patrick Shiroishi & Noel Meek: "Live" Exclusive track from 2/3's of the upcoming Komeshi Trio group.


  • Tim Stine Trio: "dB (lowercase d, Big B)" Track from the self titled debut from the Tim Stine Trio back in 2016. TST will be back in 2020 with a new album!

  • Kobra Quartet: "Telly Attire" Officially out in October, Kobra Quartet is Aurora Nealand, Steve Marquette, Anton Hatwich & Paul Thibodeaux doing amazing things and our first release repping the Instigation Festival.


  • Rob Lundberg: "Pick" Track from his recently released Water Addendum Infrastructures album on Astral Editions.


  • Matthew Lux Communication Arts Quartet: "Israels'" Track from the Lux Quartet's now SOLD OUT CS/LP/VHS and one of my favorite tracks we've ever released on Astral Spirits. Seriously, this is the best ever.


  • Tredici Bacci: "Coda" Track from their 2015 release Vai! Vai! Vai!. Yep we released a Tredici Bacci cassette back in the day and it's amazing. Maybe we'll see a repress of it one day, who knows...
Photo Credit: Nick LaRoche

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