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Diatribe Records: Heart and Soul of the Music

Diatribe Records: Heart and Soul of the Music
Ian Patterson By

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Whilst Ireland has long produced music of world renown, this tiny, most Westerly European nation has never been quite so famous for producing cutting edge jazz. However, as European jazz has gradually let slip the American accent—an evolution that perhaps gathered its greatest momentum with the birth of the ECM label—so, too, in Ireland, a new generation of musicians are venturing into increasingly more fertile grounds.

One independent label that is cutting a fearless swathe through the choppy waters of conservatism and indifference is Diatribe Records, which promotes some of Ireland's most creative musicians—native and immigrant alike. Formed in Dublin in 1999, the labels first tentative steps were two techno 12" vinyls, long since deleted. Diatribe's first CD wasn't released until eight years later, a concept album of jazz musicians battling machine overlords entitled ZoiD Versus the Jazz Musicians of Ireland Vol 1 (2007). The concept, the title and the graffiti-like artwork probably consigned the music to underground status from the get-go, but the electro-acoustic modern jazz experiment said much about the label's disregard for convention and underlined its commitment to forward-looking, creative music.

Since that first release, a dozen more CDs have followed and numerous digital releases, covering a wide range of styles that encompass modern jazz, electronic music, and a range of hard-to-categorize, highly personal forays into free improvisation and experimentation. The range and breadth of the music is impressive, from pianist Francesco Turrisi's baroque-influenced trio jazz to bass guitarist Simon Jermyn's contemporary experiment in sound; from Izumi Kimura's electrifying contemporary solo piano improvisations to the brilliant contemporary jazz of trio White Rocket and quartet ReDivIDeR; and from the aforementioned electro-acoustic ZoiD and the folk-flavored, jazz-classical melting pot that is Yurodny to Diatribe's latest addition to the stable, Thought-Fox, an original quintet featuring the divine voice of improvising vocalist Lauren Kinsella.

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Diatribe Records is run by Daniel Jacobson, Mathew Jacobson and Nick Roth, and as Roth explains, money is not the motivating factor driving the label: "If you want to make money go and work in a bank, or better go and work in a Treasury. Treasuries make money, record labels burn money. A couple of the records on the catalog have paid back what it cost to make them but in general they don't and I don't want to try to force them to ever do that because ultimately you just end up compromising."

Listening to any of the CDs released on Diatribe Records and the common denominator is precisely the uncompromising nature of the music. Uncompromising that is to say, in the artists' vision, for alongside a natural commitment to improvisation and exploration there is also great beauty and lyricism in much of the music. And the music comes above all other considerations: "My principle," Roth explains, "has been to follow the music. Make it happen and deal with the consequences afterwards. I never consider the ramifications of what it's going to cost. As a result I never have any money. I never have any money but I have loads of music."

There's no recklessness about Diatribe Records, however. All three Directors record music that they like and believe in, and judging by the arresting artwork and packaging of the CDs the commitment to the artistic aesthetic is complete. The costs of such a labor of love, however, are taken into account, as Roth expands: "As a business we need to think about these things and take them into consideration but not to the extent where they affect our principles or musical decisions."

Roth came on board Diatribe Records through Yurodny, the nine-piece group he founded in 2007. Yurodny's music embraces Irish traditional elements, as well as Balkan, Arabic and Mediterranean rhythms and colors and its live shows have an intoxicating power and beauty. Roth was producing Yurodny's first CD at Diatribe Records and he simply stayed on afterwards, becoming a partner in the adventure.

In times of single track downloads, shuffling playlists and ever-decreasing attention spans, Diatribe's philosophy on producing records is refreshing, even if it seems to go against the grain, as Roth explains: "To make a great record you have to think about the studio and the sculpting of the sound. One thing which I think is still important is that you have to imagine a record for those one or two listeners who will sit down and play the record from beginning to end. You have to imagine the journey as a symphony with various movements."

Diatribe Records has the wind in its sails and there are, Roth explains, currently another ten CDs in production. Roth is excited about this new batch of imminent releases: "All of them are better than the ones we've done to date," he says without the slightest hint of hyperbole. One of these forthcoming releases is by a group called Water Project, which utilizes the sounds of water and electronics to produce music. The inspiration came from listening to the sounds of water Roth's toilet made: "It's human music. You can hear in this where rhythm comes from; you can hear African rhythms, very primal rhythmic language. It was a big lesson," Roth acknowledges. "Music is not just made by humans; it's actually our way of understanding the world around us. That chaos, which is in nature, in the sounds of water dripping, which is in the sound of fire, which is in the sound of birds, that kind of chaos is what's interesting about human music and it's what's interesting about improvised music in those moments when it all goes a bit weird and nobody can really understand. Those are moments when we reach a deeper part within ourselves, more reactive to the environment and less thought-based."

The Water Project illustrates Diatribe Record's open-mindedness when it comes to creativity. Another release that Roth is excited about is the next CD from RedivIDeR, featuring his brother, guitarist Alex Roth, cellist Benjy Davis of Basquiat Strings, trumpeter Alex Bonney from Loop Collective and pianist Kit Downes of Emiracle and Troyka fame. 2013 promises to be a tremendously exciting one for Diatribe Records and for all those interested in progressive, creative music, in Ireland and beyond.

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