To collect music is a path and a passion that sometimes can lead into an unexpected profession. The founders of some of the most famous labels in jazz history; people like Bob Weinstock (Prestige), Alfred Lion (Blue Note), Norman Granz (Verve) and Orrin Keepnews (Riverside) were listeners, who felt the need to document the new sounds around them. At one point, collecting what was already there wasn't enough.
Like his famous predecessors, Marco Valente, who runs the Italian label Auand, began as an avid collector and connoisseur of records: "I started listening to music when I was 13 and started to listen to jazz when I was 17 and I literally used to study each record I bought: cover, label, liner notes, details... Now I can say it was like studying a job." Today Valente is still as passionate about the details of a record as he was when he was collecting. One of the hallmarks of Auand is its distinctive, beautiful design: "I was really influenced (musically and visually) by some of the most recognizable labels such as JMT (loved Steve Byram artworks!), Impulse! Hatology, old ECM's, Splasc(h) vinyls (the first series designed by Peppo Spagnoli) Auand is just my personal synthesis of those influences, with the help of Cesco Monti on the visual side."
Since its first release in 2001, Gianluca Petrella's X-Ray, Auand has managed to steadily build a catalogue, which impresses both in terms of consistency and diversity. Formally, Auand describes itself as an avant-garde label, but as Valente emphasizes, the notion of "the avant-garde" has to be taken with a degree of caution: "'avant-garde contemporary jazz' seems to be the best 'label' to describe the music on Auand records, it's not the 'truth' or the only way to describe it... For sure there is something coming from the past, obviously, any musician playing improvised music can't skip milestones like Ornette, Coltrane, Evans, Mingus as well as Armstrong and Ellington or Stravinskij and Debussy, Led Zeppelin and Beatles... etc. etc. What can be different is the way each musician relates with the 'now.' That's what I hope comes out of listening to Auand Records."
Gianluca Petrella's X-Ray was where it all began. Trombonist Petrella, who would later become a prominent player on other releases by the label, offers his own brand of swinging avant-garde. Building on the legacy of Grachan Moncur III, Petrella combines hard grooves, free form experimentalism and lyrical thoughtfulness. His quartet consisting of baritone saxophonist Javier Girotto, bassist Paul Rogers and drummer Francesco Sotgiu explores a wide range of textures. The circular, tight-knitted groove of "Crunch," penned by Rogers, finds the quartet on fire with Girotto delivering a particularly inspired solo.
Elsewhere, the delicately intertwined horn lines on "Double Fin" creates an appealing polyphony that is both intellectual and energetic, whereas "Improvisi-zation" is more loose and relaxed with Petrella exploring the different sounds of his instrument, all the while keeping the sense of abstract swing that makes the music speak to both body and soul, head and heart. The tune "Araucanos," where Girotto changes from the raspy sound of the baritone to a soaring soprano, brings the album to a conclusion with a sense of elevation, which is characteristic of Petrella's quartet: it has a sound that goes deep under the skin, right down to the driving pulse of the body. For those who think avant-garde music can't swing, X-Ray offers proof of the opposite.
David Binney / Jeff Hirshfield
A Small Madness
An artist, who offers an entirely different approach than the complex swing of Petrella, is David Binney. Binney has long been considered one of the finest new voices to emerge on the alto saxophone and his offering for Auand, A Small Madness, gives a rare opportunity to study him in a low-key setting that proves to be the perfect vehicle for exposing the rich textures of his playing.