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Color Red Records: A Label, Sound, and Vision

Color Red Records: A Label, Sound, and Vision

Courtesy John R. Wisdom

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We want people to recognize Color Red as a guarantee of quality, as a must-have label.
—Eddie Roberts
When Eddie Roberts, leader of The New Mastersounds, moved to Denver, Colorado, in 2015, he discovered a local music scene that contributed to his vision for a new type of music organization: a label that would be more than a label, producing and releasing music that would be more than (good) music—music that would establish a label-specific sound.

Roberts took the long road to Color Red Music headquarters on Colorado Boulevard in Denver. Born in Wales, he left home at eighteen to join the Leeds College of Music (UK) in 1989 and founded the soulful, retrofunk small combo The New Mastersounds a decade later (1999). (Wes Montgomery's brothers Buddy Montgomery [vibes] and Monk Montgomery [bass] led the original Mastersounds, who released ten melodic, almost soft-bop albums from 1957-'61.)

A multi-instrumentalist who plays guitars, percussion, and other instruments on The New Mastersounds' The Deplar Effect (2022), Roberts knows his way around the sound of music. But the business of music marches to a completely different beat. "I know how to make good music, I have a great network, but in terms of broadcasting, how to monetize YouTube, I have no idea—and I don't want to have a clue," Eddie explained.

Roberts had more than a clue, however, about who would have a clue and eventually partnered with a team of industry experts to help design a platform to help independent musicians build their own communities and careers launching Color Red in 2018.

In addition to Roberts who serves as President and artistic director, Color Red's current core personnel consists of Leah Concialdi (Director of PR & Marketing), John Lawrence (CFO), Nick Houchens (Operations Manager), Chris Ball (Graphic Designer), Brandon Jay (Distribution Coordinator), and Dylan Brown (Studio Manager). Musicians can linger in writing and recording their music at Color Red's Denver studio because they can stay for dinner and spend the night instead of shutting down, packing up, and leaving for a restaurant or hotel. And their fans can watch videos from the sessions (including interviews) alongside streaming or downloading the final productions from the label's website. "We want people to recognize Color Red as a guarantee of quality, as a must-have label," said Roberts.

Recorded live, directly to tape, in a single room at Color Red Studios, Electric Beethoven's Hear No Evil (2022, Color Red) rockets classical music through modern electronic and other music into deep, orbiting space so chill it sounds frozen. Their eighth release focuses on Beethoven's most famous if not mainstream compositions, inventively rearranged by bandleader and bassist Reed Mathis. Hear No Evil features Mathis with Jason Hanna (percussion), Josh Raymer (drums), Todd Stoops (keyboards, electric organ) and Clay Welch (guitar) in a genuinely exploratory and unique journey through musical space and time.

The above is more than writer's hyperbole: It really helps to read Mathis' vision and purpose for Electric Beethoven in his amazing liner notes before digging into this music. Mathis unravels and weaves a narrative thread that connects the histories of Caribbean, jazz, hip-hop, and dance music through the city of New Orleans and the person of Louis Armstrong. Then, Mathis points out and explains several rhythmic devices (such as "'the big 4,' a New Orleans rhythm where a new phrase drops in strong a beat early, and then carries over into the next phrase") heard in reggae and other Caribbean music that Beethoven employed several centuries and half a world away.

Hear No Evil lands in your ear with stunning audio crispness and clarity as it rockets through and orbits around Beethoven's classics "Ode to Joy" and "Fur Elise" and familiar refrains from his Fifth and Seventh Symphonies. Mathis' arrangement smooths out "The Fifth" into a trip-hoppy four/four head-bobbing beat, and its uncluttered production creates sonic room for the groove to keep expanding as it circles through seven minutes. In the middle section, the drums slip and slide into a more pronounced swing-jazz beat and pull the rest of the ensemble into a New Orleans stroll! "The Fifth" is an excellent introduction to the "Classical Funk in Orbit" sound and feel of Electric Beethoven.

The band shimmies into "Ode to Joy" on a slinky rhythm guitar riff that slithers as if lifted from a Prince tune. Drummer Raymer consistently swings his beat into the New Orleans sounds and rhythms of The Meters, while guitarist Welch chops up the middle section with scratchy dance chords and jangles that stir up the mix from the bottom of this deep and tasty pot.

Electric Beethoven enters "The Seventh" on a big, bouncy beat and a guitar riff that borrows its sound from the signature James Bond guitar riff, introducing an air of mystery later picked up by an eerie synthesizer melody that floats over and haunts the rest of the arrangement. Drummer Raymer leads the band into a tumbling doubling of the tempo to close "The Seventh" like a supercharged space-age samba.

Object Heavy's Love & Gravity (2023, Color Red) cooks from a different kitchen in Color Red's new-school/old-school musical universe and presents the subtle jazz, funk, and psychedelic flavors swirling around in the 1970s sound of California soul.

Love & Gravity addresses these two heavy topics in relaxed soul-funk blended by producer Kelly Finnigan (from San Francisco's soul stirrers Monophonics) into a slippery soulful sound. Even its relative briefness—less than forty minutes—helps Love & Gravity feel like a classic "two sides, twenty minutes" vinyl LP and sound like music from inventive jazz-funk pioneers Roy Ayers and Roy Ayers Ubiquity or from the catalog of San Francisco's uniquely retro progressive soul, funk, jazz, R&B, and hip-hop label Ubiquity Records.

On "For the Better," producer Finnigan builds the band into a thick groove that wraps around lead vocalist Richard Love like a soft, comforting soul blanket. Love's voice naturally suggests the late Donny Hathaway's, while Finnigan's production builds up from Marianne Taylor's steady rocking bass into an organic band sound as supple, warm, and natural as the classic Hathaway-Roberta Flack duets produced by Joel Dorn for Atlantic Records.

"Take You Home (To Mother)" almost seems too traditional a sentiment to express in its whirlpool of psychedelic funk. The ensemble vocal chorus, spacy production, Leo Plummer's shimmering guitar, and Taylor's bass depth bombs oddly come together like wobbly, off-center Parliament Funkadelic . "Righteous Walk" sounds even more built to make you move, starting off in Plummer's insistent rhythmic scratch then stepping into a disco-funk full stroll deep in the Kool & The Gang '70s pocket.

Love & Gravity sunsets with its title track, which floats on waves of mellow electric blue sound into a hippie-soul mantra about reaching for universal love. Fuzztone guitar leads the ensemble higher in sound and intensity, setting up keyboards which pull Love's vocal up to the top of the mix, which then leads the chorus into a cinematic closing fade.

In 2008, Euforquestra moved from their homebase in Iowa to Fort Collins, CO, near Denver. They came into the Color Red label family in 2022 with While We Still Got Time.

The different global influences on Euforquestra (their website advises: "think euphoria + orchestra") evident from their self-produced 2006 set Explorations in AfroBeat (subtitled A fusion of Nigerian and Cuban music rooted in Yoruba tradition) and on subsequent sets like Fire (2014) still sound loud and proud. These Afrobeat, Afro-Cuban, and Caribbean strains help weave together the band's unique, world music overall sound.

The leadoff "Arizona to Georgia" kicks this set open from its pounding opening drumbeat. Sharp and sticky rhythm guitar simultaneously chops up the rhythm but holds it together, ushering in a funk-with-vocals jam that suggests groove bands like Ozomatli, and the mid-song keyboard break adds just the right amount of sweetness and light. "Giving It All" also offers a catchy verse and chorus but in a reggae framework, with bassist Otis Lande thundering and pouting throughout, gliding through the upbeats and divebombing on the downbeats.

In 2020, Euforquestra traveled to The Democratic Republic of the Congo through the US Department of State's Arts Envoy Program for Exchange Programs, and brought "Show Me the Way" by Congolese pop star Papa Wemba, shimmering from hot juju guitars and soaring African chorus, home for this Color Red debut.

The longest track, "Higher," combines the quicksilver rhythms of Africa and the Caribbean, a big and bouncy R&B horn sound, and jazz flexibility and improvisation into the best music of this set, especially the energetic and free-flowing solos by trombonist Scott Flynn and drummer Jeff Peterson.

The slinky rhythm, soulful falsetto, and seductive sound would have made "Satisfied" another first-rate Prince tune.

"El Maldecido" ("The Cursed") featuring Telmo Fernandez by Telmo Fernandez (2022) pulls Color Red's orbit into Latin jazz and soul. Fernandez' first release in five years features the Spanish guitarist with a large ensemble that rumbles and thunders through Afro-Cuban and other Latin jazz rhythms like the ocean's swell and undertow, driven by pianist Harold Rey, bassist Yarel Hernandez, drummer Christian Delgado, and a trio of Afro-Cuban percussionists (Yuvisney Aguilar on timbales, Angelito Herrera on bongos, and Juan Viera on tumbadoras.)

The leader's guitar playing embodies the overall classic 1970s Latin jazz sound and production polish on "El Maldecido"—especially Fernandez' electric guitar, which floats and stings in the languid ballad "Mayabe," for example, with the needlepoint sharpness yet hazy blue mellow of forebearers Grant Green and Wes Montgomery.

"Cuchifrito Pa' Los Pollos" rips into its lusty, vibrant groove like a racecar roaring down an open speedway. Percussion and piano pour fuel on each other's rhythmic fires, while horns blast the landmark hook from "Never Go Back to Georgia" as an ensemble and then explode into a round of saxophone and trumpet solos. As the first serving, "Cuchifrito Pa' Los Pollos" is a great opening tune.

Two other pieces sumptuously celebrate the musical brotherhood that pulses like hot, thick blood throughout Latin America and the Caribbean. Piano sets up "Mis Hermanos Latinoamericanos" with a rollicking bounce, and while this song features male and female vocals, the leader's electric guitar also sings: Fernandez plays in a mellow tone, slightly behind the beat so it feels more relaxed, with notes coming down like cool blue frost which covers then melts into the music.

"El Maldecido" culminates in the epic "Rumberos Latinamericanos." All the percussion, horns, basslines, and vocals seem to flow through Rey's powerful piano as a continuous stream of Latin sound that the leader's guitar explores in a joyous sound, brimming with technique and emotion. As this last song winds down, it feels like Telmo Fernandez & the Latin Soul Beat finally cut loose. (Note: Temlo Fernandez has passed since this recording, leaving this document of his musical spirit.)

Drummer Tim Carman's 2022 trio release Key Lime pulls Color Red into yet another musical orbit. Carman pounds the beat for primal blues howlers GA-20 (alongside guitarists Matthew Stubbs and Tim Flaherty) but teams with guitarist Steve Fell and organ player Ken Clark to slip and slide through the 1960s Hammond B-3 trio sound as the Tim Carman Trio.

With eight tunes in forty minutes, Key Lime approximates the length as well as the sound of one of those classic soul-jazz albums by artists such as Jimmy Smith, Grant Green, Jimmy McGriff, and Pat Martino. Recorded live in one day, and the interplay (and fun) between the musicians is evident in its crackling, hot sound. Carmen plays so powerfully that he clearly leads not only the band but the music from his drummer's seat. Even so, this joyous music comes from a place of mourning. "The death of my teacher Bob Gullotti and the cancellation of gigs due to COVID led to a deep inward dive," Carman wrote in his Key Lime companion notes.

"Blues For Bob" opens this set with more than seven minutes of full throttle organ trio funk energy. Fell unravels a nearly perfect guitar solo, tossing chords which land as cool and slick as blue satin sheets, then peeling off knotty yet mellow blue licks, all powerful echoes of Kenny Burrell's soulful Detroit guitar sound. The Trio then rips into "Scoochie" at such a fast tempo that Carman's ride cymbal dissolves into a sonic sheen that seems to make the tune glow from the inside out.

Carmen's hard yet articulate drumming also drives tunes by mainstay jazz composers Sonny Rollins ("Sonnymoon for Two") and Bud Powell's "Buster Rides Again," set up by Carman and percussionist Dave Brophy as a Latin groove and then unleashed like an unbridled Argentinian horse. Clark helps himself to a solo with both hands, sustaining a long chord with one hand and then counterpointing with quicksilver riffs from the other.

Eddie Roberts has described Carman's soulful expression of the genre as "soul-jazz how it's supposed to sound."

The Deplar Effect (2022) from Roberts and the label's flagship ensemble The New Mastersounds brings the Color Red groove home from a most unlikely location: It was recorded at Floki Studios on Deplar Farm in the valley of Eleven Experiences on Troll Peninsula in Iceland.

The Deplar Effect first sounds cut from the same small combo organ funk style and sound of Key Lime but then it grows into different branches and fruit. Roberts's electric rhythm guitar hook is jangly and grabby, but drummer Simon Allen and bassist Pete Shand drop the opening "Watchu Want" deep into a slippery New Orleans funk groove—especially Shand's open, rubbery phrasing, which bounces like a rubber tuba underneath Joe Tatton's electric organ solo. Later in the set, "Georgie Famous" honors British R&B founding father Georgie Fame by revisiting and reanimating (thanks to Allen's relentless attack) the roaring raveup sound from 1960s British R&B. "Georgie Famous" is also a near-perfect example of The New Mastersounds' quartet sound, with Tatton's electric keyboard more prominent in the mix.

Add vocalist Lamar Williams Jr., son of late Allman Brothers' bassist Lamar Williams, and "Gonna Get In My Way" rocks with ferocity and power. Williams' vocal rips through the music like Corey Glover roaring to be heard over Living Colour's black metal, while Tatton's keyboard solo and Roberts's slam-bang chords keep driving the beat. "We hit a groove where everyone got goosebumps and could feel it in their bones," Williams recalled. "The song goes into a spiritual realm with a line saying 'I'll try to fly if you do the same' and it was reflective of what we were doing in the mountains with birds flying around and openness. It encapsulated the vibe of what was going on."

Several other titles also seem influenced by the band's recording location in Iceland. The tight instrumental work and crisp turnarounds in "Let Me in From the Cold" twist and shout out an up-tempo nod to 1960s vocal jazz, while Williams' hearty vocal begs a cold-hearted woman to try a little tenderness, all in three white-hot minutes.

The instrumental "Hot Tub" manages to maintain its warm and natural, organic group sound and yet flatters each contributing voice—Tatton's groove-a-licious keyboards, Roberts' tangy and twangy electric guitar, Allen's fat backbeat and Shand's cool and steady bass—in a production that sounds as cold and distant as Iceland.

The New Mastersounds may be the label's flagship band, led by the label's founder. But the personnel and geographic happenstance through which it came about may make "Mardi Gras Day" (2023) the ultimate Color Red recording. The basic groove for this first single from the Color Red subsidiary Eleven Music's Floki Sessions was recorded at Floki Studios in Iceland by an ace New Orleans funk ensemble: Guitarist Eddie Roberts, drummer Nikki Glaspie, keyboard player Robert Walter, and bassist George Porter Jr., founding member of New Orleans rhythm legends The Meters.

The recording was brought back from Iceland to Color Red studios in Colorado. Subsequently (and completely unrelated), Big Chief Donald Harrison came to Denver to perform. Roberts instantly and urgently contacted the saxophonist and pulled him into the studio to top the project off. Harrison's vast experience as a saxophonist includes working with Roy Haynes, McCoy Tyner, The Headhunters, The Chicago Symphony Orchestra, and as trumpeter Terence Blanchard's counterpart in the frontline of Art Blakey's The Jazz Messengers. Just as important, New Orleans native Harrison was made a Chief in 2019 by Queen Diambi Kabatusuila of the Democratic Republic of Congo and is the official "Big Chief" of New Orleans' Congo Square. Harrison's gruff lead vocal and squealing alto seek out and bounce off Glaspie's rollicking beat, and top the churning New Orleans rhythm like a jeweled crown. "Mardi Gras Day" perfectly triangulates Color Red's two production centers with New Orleans, one of the label's ancestral spiritual homes.

Other Color Red subsidiaries include Color Red France, which represents Color Red throughout Europe, remix curation & European A&R via Marcos Flores (aka DJ Marcos Boricua), Color Red Japan, and sublabel partners that include Floki Studios, and Buena Vista West Records.

Tracks and Personnel:

Hear No Evil

Tracks: The Fifth; Elise; Ode to Joy; Moonlight Sonata; The Path; The Seventh; The Seventh (Michael Menert Remix); The Fifth (Tae Meyulks Remix); New Moon; Ode to Joy (Combsy Remix); Elise (Sidecar Tommy Remix); New Path; Ramps & Vamps; To Love the World.

Personnel: Reed Mathis: bass, musical arrangement; Todd Stoops: keyboards, electric organ; Clay Welch: guitar; Josh Raymer: drums; Jason Hann: percussion; Karl Denson: saxophone; Scott Flynn: trombone; Drew Sayers: tenor saxophone; Jonny Jyemo: drums; Ryan Jalbert: electric guitar; Dan Africano: bass; Michal Menert: remixer; Sidecar Tommy: remixer; Tae Meyulks: remixer; Combsy: remixer.

Love & Gravity

Tracks: Alone; For the Better; Take You Home (To Mother); Reflection; Feel Right; 10:28; Righteous Walk; S.O.L.; Love & Gravity.

Personnel: Leo Plummer: electric guitar, background vocals, acoustic guitar; Richard Love: vocals; Brian Swislow: percussion, synthesizer, keyboards, acoustic piano, background vocals, talk box; Lex Razon: drums; Peter L. Ciotti IV: drums; Thatcher Holvick-Norton: percussion, congas, drums; Ian Taylor: electric bass guitar, background vocals, synthesizer; Kelly Finnigan: background vocals; Jonathan Woods: vocals.

While We Still Got Time

Tracks: Arizona to Georgia; Giving It All; Show Me the Way; Move the Earth; Still Got Time; Higher; Muck; Satisfied; So She Feels Better; Hands on the Wheel.
Personnel: Matthew Wright: vocals, clavinet, Fender Rhodes, electric organ; Mike Tallman: guitar, background vocals; Otis Lande: bass guitar; Jeff Peterson: drums; Austin Zaletel: saxophone, vocals, bass clarinet; Scott Flynn: trombone; Gabe Mervine: trumpet; Kim Dawson: vocals; Jeff Franca: percussion; Evry Lahaluma: drums; Esperance Mbanzila Milongo: background vocals; Joel Mbidy: guitar; Tyson Meya: vocals, acoustic piano; Amoureux Kimpioka: percussion.

"El Maldecido" ("The Cursed")

Tracks: Cuchifrito Pa' Los Pollos; Mayabe; Nacimiento de El Maldecido; El Maldecido; Mis Hermanos Latinoamericanos; Asojano (Arara'); La Palma; Nerida, La Facultosa; Tierra De Bibijagua; Cuba Linda; Rumberos Latinoamericanos.

Personnel: Telmo Fernandez: songwriting, arranging, tres macho, background vocals; Piter "El Carri" Carri: vocals; Eudis Mojena: background vocals; Harold Rey: background vocals, acoustic piano; Alejandro Escalera: flute; Jorge Vistel: trumpet; Escandaloso Xpósito: alto saxophone; Arnaud Desprez: tenor saxophone; G. "Mandela" Bell: trombone; Ton Risco: vibraphone; Yuvisney Aguilar: timbales; Angelito Herrera: bongos; Juan Viera: tumbadoras; Yarel Hernandez: bass; Christian Delgado: drums.

Key Lime

Tracks: Blues for Bob; Scoochie; Key Lime; Not a Tear; Driftin'; Buster Rides Again; Sonnymoon for Two; Insomnia.

Personnel: Tim Carman: drums; Steve Fell: electric guitar; Ken Clark: electric organ.

The Deplar Effect

Tracks: Watchu Want; Gonna Get In My Way; Hot Tub; Let Me in from the Cold; Highlining; Organism; Meet You in the Sunshine; High on the Mountain; Could've Been So Good; Hey, It's All Right; Northern Lights; Georgie Famous; Before.

Personnel: Eddie Roberts: guitar, acoustic guitar, tambourine, congas, wood block, shaker; Joe Tatton: electric organ, Fender Rhodes, acoustic piano; Pete Shand: bass; Simon Allen: drums, bongos; Lamar Williams, Jr.: vocals; Wade Koeman: handclaps; Gene McAward: handclaps; Patrick Rowley: handclaps; Matt Walker: handclaps; Chad Pike: cowbell; Sasha Crooks: vibra-slap.

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