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
, 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 X-Ray Auand
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 Auand
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.
Often Binney has favored larger ensembles with many different instruments, but here he engages in an intense conversation with drummer Jeff Hirshfield, who proves to be the perfect partner for his melodic improvisations, adding an intuitive response to his ideas and yet, at the same time, managing to create a rhythmic framework around the more free flowing lines of the saxophonist. Wayne Shorter's "Dolores" establishes the link with tradition from the beginning and the folksong "Mallari" juxtaposes a mythological layer to his vocabulary, but all the rest of the compositions are written by Binney whose use of electronics expands the music. On "The Mystery of Influence" liquid sounds colorizes the background and lays a misty shroud around the searching tones of the saxophone. Elsewhere, the raw live sound of "Left" provides a nice contrast to the more polished sound of the rest of the record. Thus, A Small Madness
gives the full picture of Binney as an artist, providing an intimate view of the saxophonist as live improviser, sound sculptor and composer.
Giancarlo Tossani Synapser Beauty Is a Rare Thing Auand
As the record of David Binney proves, Auand often prefers a musical setting that lies outside the obvious. The classic combination of instruments like piano, bass, drums and horn in the most established formats; trio and quartet, is often challenged by the label, which favours a more adventurous approach to a musical working unit. However, Giancarlo Tossani Synapser's Beauty Is a Rare Thing
is the exception that proves the rule. On paper, the quartet of pianist Giancarlo Tossani, saxophonist Achille Succi
, who also plays the bass clarinet, bassist Tito Mangialajo Rantzer and Cristiano Calcagnile on drums may look like a traditional working unit, but like all other artists on the Auand label they stretch the understanding of the sound of jazz while still remaining true to tradition. The title, Beauty Is a Rare Thing
, is taken from Ornette Coleman
's composition of the same name, a tune that also finds its way on the album. With lyrical gentleness and empathic understanding of silence and spatiality that is characteristic of the album as whole, the quartet revisits Coleman's composition, retaining the perfect balance between subtle melodic threads and pure sound. On the other hand, "Early food musics" shows the capability of the band to create a solid groove, which gives plenty of room for Succi's passionate playing. "Fluxlux" introduces an intricate piano figure reminiscent of Herbie Hancock
that dissolves into a carefully controlled stream of sound where Tossani broadens the palette of his instrument: hammering, and whispering. The quartet sings that rare song of beauty, which Coleman captured himself, revisiting and broadening avant-garde tradition.
Cuong Vu It's Mostly Residual Auand
Beauty is also present in the music of trumpeter Cuong Vu
but on It's Mostly Residual
it is a beauty that comes with a threatening darkness and dramatic shades. The music moves into the territory of art rock and heavy metal, changing between lyrical introspection and mind-blowing walls of noise with guitarist Bill Frisell
tearing the structures of the music apart with violent screeches and screams, but also giving samples of his trademark reverb-drenched sound. In the middle of it all is the leader whose ethereal, long-drawn lines lies like mist on a mountain top while occasionally piercing through the wall of sound with crystalline sharpness. There's an orchestral grandeur about Vu's compositions that spans the elegiac title number, the apocalyptic mood of "Expressions of a Neurotic Impulse" and the chaotic free funk of "Brittle, Like Twigs" with the driving rhythm of electric bassist Stomu Takeishi and drummer Ted Poor
. It's impressive how the four musicians are able to make so much sound without resorting to the sheer violence of loudness. Instead, the group creates order in chaos and paints on a large canvas of melody and noise with several nuances of grey, black and white, altogether forming an ambitiously conceived circle of compositions.
Roberto Cecchetto Downtown Auand
While Cuong Vu is almost romantic in the dramatic conception of his music, the compositions of guitarist Roberto Cecchetto
are more joyful in their post-modern sophisticated eclecticism. Downtown
is an album that brings together a myriad of influences from jazz guitar tradition. The album starts with the effortless swinging "Where Are You," recalling Tal Farlow
but soon changes on a plate with the brief abstract impressionism of "Uptown" that showcases the immense talent of drummer Michele Rabbia, who is master in creating moods with the fewest means possible. Taking another u-turn is the acoustic funk of "Do It" and "Oslo Hotel" is an epic achievement with modulated sounds and bassist Giovanni Maier spinning a soulful pattern on the bass. The shadow of Derek Bailey
looms large over "Downtown" with the players shunning a traditional conception of melody and rhythm in favor of the pure sound of their instruments. Perhaps, the most impressive thing about Cecchetto isn't his encyclopaedic knowledge of his instrument, but rather the way he succeeds, in spite of all the diversity, to bring a feeling of unity to his work. Downtown
isn't just the rehash of yesterday's and today's music but rather a personal expression of the sounds of tomorrow. The album is like a living city speaking with different voices but in the same language, adding new words to the musical vocabulary of jazz.
Quilibri Eco Fato Auand
Like Roberto Cecchetto, Quilibri is hard to place within a hard and fast genre. The group features an unusual line-up with two percussionists, a mostly acoustic guitarist, a bassist and a soprano saxophonist. To quote Ezra Pound, Eco Fato's
gentle lyricism is like "Petals on a wet, black bough." Moisture and the idea of the chaotic yet organic structure of nature find its way into the music. As it says in the notes to the album: "This music has been recorded in Gianavella, in Val Pellice, during the days of the flood (a time when even snails were trying to save their own lives), altogether in a great big room, fully permeable to both a humid cold and to sound a time of rain, a time of twittering which peeps out between one piece and the other." The music has an air of intimacy where the soft strum of an acoustic guitar mixes with refined patterns of handheld percussion and the breathing soprano saxophone of Andrea Ayassot, who is the sole composer behind all the tracks. However, Eco Fato
, is a group effort managing to convey the melodic, organic sounds of wood, water and steel in a music that draws on Eastern as well as Western influences.
Musically, Auand is all over the map. What the label's rooster share is producer Marco Valente's intuitive sense of what works aesthetically and pushes the boundaries of how music is experienced, aurally as well as visually. Therefore, many of Auand's releases features multimedia tracks as a way of providing something extra for the buyer of the records. Speaking of the new digital revolution in the music business, Valente is a bit more reluctant: "What is clear is that recording a session can be easier now... the market is wider but this can be better (wider audience? Easier to reach new listeners? Easy to buy using the net...) or worse (too many things to listen to, too much free music available, too much information with no filter), it depends on your point of view... my point of view is right in the middle. I was the first one in Italy to design a jazz related website in 1997 and the first one to design a jazz related webshop
in 1999, so I've used the net for 12 years."
Still, Auand has not yet taken the final step towards making records available as downloads, which has much to do with the aesthetic of the label. As Valente says: "I really think of the record as the sum of the music and the visual/object, I can't think of the music alone... So for now, Auand is not available as digital downloads." However, Valente will not deny the possibility of digital distribution in the future, but what matters most to him is not the commercial aspect of the business, but the music itself and the relation between the listener and the record, a relation that is defined by trust: "Wider audience is something I never really think of...the market is what everybody knows... I print 1,000 copies of each record and only few times I needed to reprint. Of course, I'm happy to reprint a record but it's not my main goal. Documenting something special to my ears is the goal. My role is just listening to music and decide (following my own personal parameters, absolutely subjective) if something is special deserving documentation, be pressed and left to the future. Of course this means that people has to trust Auand. My job is essentially to gain people's trust."
Tracks and Personnel X-Ray
Tracks: Broken Head; X-Ray; G8; Femtosecond; Crunch; Reflex; Double Fin; Ra; Improvisi-zation; Grandes Amigos; Araucanos.
Personnel: Gianluca Petrella: trombone; Javier Girotto: baritione saxophone, quena and soprano saxophone; Paul Rogers: five string double bass; Francesco Sotgiu: drums. A Small Madness
Tracks: Dolores; The Mystery of Influence; Mallari; A Small Madness; Old Books; Renegade; Oddman; Useful Illusion; Left; Impossible Histories.
Personnel: David Binney: alto saxophone, electronics; Jeff Hirshfield: drums; Tanya Henri: vocals on # 3. Beauty Is a Rare Thing
Tracks: Faites votre remix; Audioglobe; Souvenirs from the future; Fluxlux; Give me a face, give me a voice; Musicarebus; Beauty is a rare thing; Early food musics; Mejor vida corporation.
Personnel: Achille Succi: alto saxophone, bass clarinet; Giancarlo Tossani: piano; Tito Mangialajo Rantzer: double bass; Cristiano Calcagnile: drums. It's Mostly Residual
Tracks: It's Mostly Residual; Expressions of a Neurotic Impulse; Patchwork; Brittle, Like Twigs; Chitter Chatter; Blur.
Personnel: Cuong Vu: trumpet; Bill Frisell: guitar; Stomu Takeishi: electric bass; Ted Poor: drums. Downtown
Tracks: Where Are You; Uptown; Do It; Oslo Hotel; Sinapsi; Rio Dreams; Downtown; Sun Eyes; 3 Points of View; Tierra Del Fuego.
Personnel: Roberto Cecchetto: electric and acoustic guitars, loops; Giovanni Maier: double bass; Michele Rabbia: drums and percussion, loops. Eco Fato
Tracks: Alba e tramonto; Erba; Ululoop; Gingiotto; Barbasso; Stella nell'acque; Panoramix; Caffe Sincronia.
Personnel: Andrea Ayassot: soprano saxophone; Karsten Lipp: acoustic guitar, electric guitar on # 1; Stefano Risso: double bass; Adriano De Micco: percussion; Luca Spena: percussion.
Photo credit: Radosław Kaźmierczak