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Dot Time Records: Placing the Artist in the Center

Dot Time Records: Placing the Artist in the Center
Jakob Baekgaard By

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One of the problems with the record industry is the potential distance between label owners and artists. This is especially the case with major labels, where there are many people involved in music production who care more about sales than the vision of the artist.

Then there's a label like Dot Time Records whose entire identity is built on artistic freedom and trust. This becomes clear when reading the short manifest on the label's website:

"Dot-Time Records is the new Jazz and World music label being launched in 2012. Dot-Time releases feature exciting virtuoso artists, both established and newly discovered from around the globe. The branding of Dot-Time Records can be found in the creativity, artistry, passion and energy of these artists and musicians."

The people behind this manifesto are just as passionate as the musicians themselves and they know the business from both sides of the table. Jo Bickhardt and Andrew Read have a combined history of work that covers all aspects of the industry, from performing to managing and distributing. They have followed a record from every step on its way from demo to the stores before they decided on launching their own label. Based in the Netherlands and New York, Dot Time Records isn't the vision of one producer and owner, but a team based on friendship, experience and mutual respect. More than anything, it is a modern label that has left the dusty image of the record mogul and entered the age of networking and collaboration.

All About Jazz: Could you speak about your background? How did you get into music—and jazz in particular? Did it ever occur to you that you would be label owners some day?

Andrew Read: I was born in Australia and come from a musical family. My mother was an opera singer and my father a great jazz fan. I began music lessons at the age of 8 and at age 17 switched to double bass. I have degrees in both jazz & classical performance. After leaving the conservatorium in Melbourne in the late seventies, I ended up in the pop/rock scene in Melbourne, however, jazz was always my passion. After I left the pop scene in Australia, I returned to university to study Business Management. After graduating I had decided that a career in the business world was not for me and decided to return to the music business. I moved to the Netherlands in 1993 to further my classical studies and 20 years later I am still there.

Did it ever occur to me that I would own 50% of a jazz label one day? The short answer is NO, although I have always been interested in the business side of the industry. From 2002 until 2008 I managed a baroque orchestra and later took on a number of jazz artists as well. I met Jo Bickhardt (my partner in Dot Time) through a release from my jazz trio. Jo Bickhardt was the US distributor for the label I was on at the time and we just clicked. There were so many points of synergy that we started working together. Dot Time came out of this relationship.

Jo Bickhardt: I was born in New Jersey, USA and I have been immersed in music from birth. My father was a great lover of classical music as well as a fabulous singer. From my earliest recollection I loved to sing and I have been doing so professionally my entire life. I am classically trained and also a cantor. While at conservatory in Chicago I was fortunate to work with some recording engineers who discovered I had a great set of ears for classical recordings and they stuck me behind the console. People began to ask me to help produce their work. I started a small classical label to help out friends and realized that distribution was extremely difficult and made no business sense, which still holds true to this day. So I started a small independent distribution company with my own set of rules and have managed to survive all the storms and current forecasts.

Jazz is new to me and I have come to enjoy many avenues of it. Andrew and I talk music but very differently as I approach things from a very classical side. It helps me to think that way and keeps me clear of the numerous issues that jazz musicians face regarding genre expectation. It never was an issue to own a label, and the one we have created is much different than the industry norm.

AAJ: When did you form your label and how did it happen?

AR: Our label was formed in my car on the A1 in Holland. Jo and I had just attended a meeting for one of my artists at the offices of their Label. The point of the meeting was to discuss the contract for their coming release. The deal on offer was so ridiculous and on the way back Jo said "You know, with my distribution and your experience in management we can do this much better." My answer was OK then let's do it. Dot Time was born. This was November 2011. In April 2012 we released our 1st CD.

JB: Andrew asked me to attend a meeting with a record label that was really not doing their due diligence for an artist that he was representing. Being a US based Distributor I was able to do some research, ask some questions, point out a few issues that really hurt the artist in the USA. The answers I heard were so off the wall and mark that I walked out extremely agitated and laughing at the same time. In the car back to Hengelo I kind of said something like..." I am sick and tired of seeing really good artists screwed by these kinds of labels...I could do this better in my sleep..."And Andrew said "OK, do it!" So in the car on the A1 to Hengelo the label was born.

AAJ: Is there a story behind the name Dot Time Records. What does it mean?

AR: Yes, the story is as told, however, the real story is that we wanted to create a label where every deal we make is a "win-win" for both the artist and the label. We run the label from an artist's perspective as we understand that our most valuable asset is not the catalogue but the artist themselves.

JB: (laughing)—There is always a story...I was looking for a name that expressed meter or tempo because I felt that life works in that way. We live in a time where 'time' itself is lost. People don't like to wait. Decisions in life are now made based upon speed and quickness. Dot Time expresses a specific set of time based on the artist's perception of time and space. However, the real inside story (scoop) is, and I never told Andrew, was I liked DOT, which is the acronym for Department of Transportation. Of all the arts, music transports us the most and has the most spiritual effect in our lives. It takes us places unrealized and rarely explored. Each listening is an experience on to itself and potentially inspires us for more. It allows us to leave the physical world and explore the spiritual world. That is an attractive quality and jazz is at the forefront of that.

AAJ: How do you see your role(s) as label owner(s) and how would you characterize the sound(s) you are looking for?

AR: One of the advantages we have with Dot Time is the fact that we have a foot in the scene on both continents. In this way we can open doors in the US for our European artists and the reverse for US artists in Europe. My Role in the label is A&R Manager and through my media company the coordination of the online marketing. Jo looks after the US office (this is our Head Office) and coordinates the distribution and business end of things. Jo and I both handle the development of label strategy and branding.

The label has one main criteria and that is the music has to great. As you can see from the catalogue so far, the selection is rather eclectic and covers a wide range of styles within the jazz genre. We are very involved with our artists, in fact this is the basic philosophy of the label. It's not our job to get intricately involved with the music from an artistic point. We leave the artist completely alone in this. If they ask our advice on this, of course, they will get my opinion. We do get heavily involved with the branding and marketing aspects, this is often an area that the artist has no clue about.

AAJ: You have offices both in the Netherlands and in New York. How do you coordinate your work? How is a typical day at the office?

JB: I have always been an early riser. Furthermore, when I was really developing the distribution side of my life I was on the phone to Europe early every morning so I guess it became ingrained in me. We live on Skype and email and we know each other's schedule pretty much. So coordinating isn't much of a problem. Typical day starts at 6 am.

AR: Hardly a day goes by that Jo and I do not speak. Also we do travel a great deal. Jo is in Europe at least 4 times per year. Due to time zone differences both Jo and I have adjusted our schedule so that we are available for each other at least 6 hours a day. In effect a typical day at the office could be described as LONG.

AAJ: You have a very eclectic catalog. Is this a conscious choice or a coincidence? Is there any type of jazz that wouldn't fit in on your label?

AR: Indeed, the catalogue is eclectic, this is no coincidence. We feel that for a label to be successful, we need to offer music to a wide audience. This makes the branding of the label a little more difficult. However, we believe in the long run this will work in our advantage. As the catalogue grows we may see a specific direction emerge and it is not unthinkable that we will introduce some sub labels in the future if this makes sense from a marketing and branding perspective.

I don't think you could expect to see any Dixieland coming out on Dot Time. Also I am allergic for programmed music. I hear a lot of smooth jazz where the backing tracks are sequenced and sampled. This you will never hear on Dot Time.

JB: The challenge for the label is that we see an industry where there are many blurred areas that box in the artist to be something that they are really not. Traditionalists or purists run the risk of really missing wonderful virtuoso musicians, who have their own story to tell. The ability for the label to be eclectic was a choice Andrew and I made really from day one, because we saw the artist as artists ourselves. We treat them as we would want to be treated. Each one is like a family member. I don't know what wouldn't fit as of yet.

AAJ: What is the ideal record to you? What kind of record labels do your admire yourself and why?

JB: The ideal record is one where there is musical passion. Even some records that are not well recorded, you can still feel the artist's passion. If that isn't there the rest is irrelevant.

Having come in contact with lots of labels from the distribution side, I really admire Opera Rara and what he has done. I also really like Profil, Gunter Haenssler's label in Germany. Labels like that are inspiring. They had an idea and vision and have put out great material. I have learned a lot watching them build their labels.

AR: This is a very difficult question to answer, however, with my A&R manager hat on I would say the ideal record is well recorded, contains consistent repertoire and most importantly a recording where you can feel the passion of the artist.

Regarding labels I admire, I would have to say ECM would be on the top of my list. This is a label with a vision and a great catalogue that has achieved great success by remaining true to its vision. Also the German label Neuklangrecords I admire a great deal. This label is very artist oriented and has a great catalogue.

AAJ: Tell me about the package and design of your albums. Do you work with a particular designer and do you include liner notes and/or photography. Is it important to you that there is a historical context or does the music speak for itself?

AR: All our CDs come to the market in Digipak form. Some of our artists wish to use their own designer and this is no problem for us. We have a number of requirements that the artwork must conform to. However, up until now we have had no problems. We do look at the packaging from a marketing standpoint. The cover of the CD is still the main thing that draws a potential purchaser in. This still applies to both physical & digital editions. We always produce separate artwork for the download sites.

For 90% of our CDs, we have done the design in-house through my media company MFM-Media. Usually the artist delivers the photo material they wish to use. We also have some great photographers that we use in the case that the artist leaves this to us. Regarding liner notes, we believe that pictures speak louder than words. However, some productions are better served with well written liner notes. Often the artist wishes to write these themselves and we will respect this wish, but we do retain the right to edit if need be. There have been some releases where we hired a professional writer in to do the liner notes.

JB: I have basically let Andrew run the design side. I am critical of space, how it is employed on and in each recording. Before the listener even hears the music, there will be an attraction to the design—but even more—the space -. If the CD looks busy and is crowded that leaves a negative impression. I read everything and try to get the artist(s) to understand that the CD is a business card in a way and to treat it as such.

AAJ: Are there any records in your catalogue that hold a special place in your heart or have an unusual story? What are the musical highlights for you so far?

JB: Every artist on the label is family to me. They are all favorites. Musically they all offer me something extremely special. Greg Diamond, Arik Strauss and Simone Gubbiotti are more my taste. My favorite track is off of Zandscape ("What a Difference the Bass Makes"). I love Maria Mendes' voice and The Jost Project is really going to be special. Paul Jost is an amazing vocalist. I also heard the new mix of Java Jive last week from Erin Dickens and the harmonies are fabulous. I love what they all create.

AR: So far every CD in our catalogue has a special place in my heart, however there are one or two that stand out, for example our first release Conduit from Greg Diamond is one of my favorites. Also, Along the Road by Maria mendes is a great CD and has done very well. We expect big things from Maria. In August, we will be releasing Can't find my way home by the Jost Project, a band out of Philadelphia consisting of Tony Miceli, Kevin MacConnell, Charlie Patierno and Paul Jost on vocals. Paul is one of the most exciting male vocalists that I have heard since Mark Murphy. The CD is so out of the box and one of the best recordings I have heard for years. This is without a doubt one of the highlights so far. Another highlight for us was Paula Atherton hitting the number 15 spot on the Billboard Smooth Jazz charts.

AAJ: You have a lot of artists from the Dutch jazz scene. How would you characterize this particular scene and how did you become involved with it?

AR: The Dutch scene has always been vibrant. Due to the many great schools here in Holland, we have a fantastic pool of world class jazz musicians. If you ask, is there a Dutch sound? I would have to say no. I think that due to the openness of our society, the scene has absorbed many influences and this can be heard in the diversity of the Dutch scene. Regarding how I became involved in the scene, I came to Holland 20 years ago to study classical music and never left. Although I studied classical music, my jazz roots have never been far away.

JB: It made sense. Andrew is in the Dutch scene and there is a Dutch treatment or attitude to Jazz.

AAJ: You're musicians yourselves. How does it reflect on your work as label owners?

AR: Although I am a musician, I understand the business side of music inside out. I often say that my greatest asset as a label owner is being ripped off by a number of the majors back in my rock & roll days. I know what an artist needs from a label and I know what a label can realistically do for an artist.

JB:I try to treat an artist like I would want a label to treat me. All aspects of Dot Time's business model have this in mind.

AAJ: Is there a particular studio that you use and do you prefer a more clean studio sound or a live feeling?

JB: The true essence of a good recording is inviting the listener to a place as if it is live. Music, virtuosity and artistry are about a live experience. It is an illusion to think that you can create a true live ambience in a studio. Therefore, a clean sound is the only choice. On the rare occasion that a live recording can be captured cleanly and aesthetically, I prefer live recordings.

AR: Most of our catalogue is licensed from the artist and they come to us with a finished recording. If we do a full production, we look at this on a case by case basis. Personally I prefer a clean studio recording over a live recording.

AAJ: How has the reception of Dot Time Records been so far and how is it working with your distribution? How do you see the future of jazz and your own label in particular?

JB: The initial response has been very positive. It takes time to create a brand or an emphasis on what you are creating, so in some ways it is still early. Clearly, the distribution is the simplest for me as a lot was already in place and all I had to do was plug it in. However, universal distribution isn't really the issue anymore. Everything is available digitally or online.

The future for jazz and for Dot Time I think needs to be in developing an impresario business motif. Jazz is a live vehicle and when the vehicle is in the garage because it has no place to go and be seen, then you have to address that issue. I understand the economics involved, but jazz is passion and that passion needs a platform to be heard. We are working on ways to make this possible. We have our first artist showcase at the Blue Note in NYC in Jan 14 and we are looking at other places around the world to do the same.

AR: So far I think we have done well. All of the CDs have received good reviews and for a new label to produce 11 Cds in their first year is quite a performance. The distribution in the US has been no problem as we had this organized through Jo's existing distribution company. Asia is also doing well for us and so far this is the market where we have achieved the greatest sales. Europe is quite different due to the fact that the market is rather segmented. In the beginning, we had our entire European distribution with one company. However, this was not a great success. Currently we are handling the European distribution in house and although this is a great deal of work, it is working better for us. We have a separate distributor for Spain and Portugal that we are happy with.

I think the future of Jazz is strong. We have just returned from JazzAhead in Bremen (Germany) and although the European industry is going through a difficult phase, I think that there are many opportunities out there. Regarding the future of the label, both Jo and I are in it for the long haul and I think long term the future is bright. Our industry is very dynamic and as a label you just can't sit back and do this the way it has always been done. Jo and I are constantly looking at ways to reach a wider audience and expand our reach both within the jazz world and to new audiences.

AAJ: How does your release schedule look? Any future projects lined up?

AR: In the first year we focused on building the catalogue and this has been quite successful. For the rest of 2013 we have 4 new releases planned and this might end up being 5. Also, we are working with two artists currently for releases that will hit the market in early 2014. We believe that it is important to build critical mass in the catalogue but we need to be careful that this does not stretch our resources to the point where each release does not receive the attention that it deserves. We are both on a steep learning curve but have a great deal of confidence in what we are doing. We have great industry partners and if we all work together and the quality is there, we will be successful in the long term.

JB: Having learned from our mistakes at the start up, we need to give more space between our releases allowing our artists needs to be met from the marketing and promotional side. We have changed a number of ways we approach the market and we are seeing positive results from that. Most important to me is to stay true to what we are, what we offer and what we mean.

Zandscape
Zandscape
2012

In a mock dictionary entry on the artist's website, the word Zandscape is defined as "Zandscape [Zand-skeyp] noun, 1. A musical landscape created by Mark Zandveld. 2. A band playing the creations mentioned above."

While it might be perceived as a gimmick, the dictionary entry actually gets to the heart of the band's aesthetic. It points out that it relies on Mark Zandveld's distinctive composing skills, but also that the music is conceived through collective playing and not only one man's vision. Finally, there's a great deal of humor and creativity involved, and this is also shown in titles like "Barhopping," "Boptopus" and "What a Difference the Bass Makes." Clearly, these guys like to play together, but make no mistake, behind the smile there's also a stone-cold seriousness and an ambition to create an expression that is both musically curious and singular.

The sound is carried by the prominent interplay between the strings of Zandveld's creamy bass and the stylistic breadth of guitarist Daniel "Tato" de Moreas. Combined with Gunnar Graafmans' vibraphone and Enrique Firpi's funky drumming, the group creates a sophisticated brand of fusion where there's both room for relaxed swinging and tight grooves. Zandscape relies on the kind of sounds that were created in the 70s on such labels as ECM and especially GRP, but Zandscape still has its very own feel. A sound carried by the "Joy Felt" to quote another title from their eponymous album.

Paula Atherton
Enjoy the Ride
2012

"Sophisticated" is also a word that could be used to describe the music of saxophonist, singer and flutist Paula Atherton, but it's the kind of sophistication that is associated with silky luxury rather than intellectual challenges. While Atherton isn't ashamed to make smooth jazz, her sounds never get dull and her flute playing on opener "Herbie" would make most full-grown boppers envious, even though the music is closer to David Sanborn than Charlie Parker.

While the music is soft the whole way through, there's a refreshing stylistic variety to be found on the album. Whether entering the territory of jazzy R&B on the vocal ballad "Can't Get You Out of my Mind," slap bass funk on "Sassy Strut" or adding Latin flourishes on "Rice n Beans ," Atherton gets completely into the music and embraces a wide range of textures and rhythms.

Surprisingly enough, the variety also finds its way into the lyrics that don't just stick to the familiar topic of love lost or won. While smooth jazz is sometimes perceived as the soundtrack for buying a new pair of Manolo Blahniks, the song "Let It Be" incorporates a socially conscious element that talks about "people living on the streets / folks don't have enough to eat / it is so hard to make ends meet / won't you please lend a hand and some understanding."

The tone, though, is overall joyful, sensual and relaxed and the title Enjoy the Ride might be a suitable message for an album that is all about elegance and positivity—even in the middle of hard times. "Pick yourself up / and try it again" is Atherton's advice and those with a taste for smooth jazz could do a lot worse than pick this excellent album up.

Maria Mendes
Along the Road
2012

Dot Time Records has a strong roster of female artists. Paula Atherton is an example and another case in point is the Portuguese-born singer, Maria Mendes, who has found a home in the Netherlands where she has become a part of the blooming jazz scene.

On Along the Road, her sparkling debut, she has found empathic backing in the Dutch trio of pianist Karel Boehlee, bassist Clemens van der Feen and drummer Jasper van Hulten . Besides the core trio, harmonica-player Wim Dijkgraaf also features and adds a characteristic touch of yearning romanticism reminiscent of Toots Thielemans.

The album might have been titled The Best of Two Worlds. The two worlds on display are the familiar fields of American standards, represented with a classic like "Somewhere Over the Rainbow," and the more exotic rhythms of Latin America that beat vitally in Mendes' beautiful rendition of Hermeto Pascoal's Brazilian classic "Chorinho Pra Ele" where bassist Clemens van der Feen delivers a solo that sings like the human voice while Mendes scats like a horn.

A musical celebrity like Quincy Jones has praised Mendes saying: "I see a promising and shining future for this young talented singer." Along the Road might just be the beginning of a long musical journey, but it is also a testimony of singer who already imbues her art with a melancholy maturity and the deep sense of feeling found in the Fado of her birth country.

Lucette van den Berg
Benkshaft
2012

It might seem like the Latin American standards of Maria Mendes and Lucette van den Berg's Yiddish music are worlds apart, but in fact they're more like kindred spirits. What they share is a deep sense of feeling and the ability to tell a story through music. A story that can be told through tears, but also be carried by strength and will.

Benkshaft is the third album from Lucette van den Berg. Here, her congenial understanding of Yiddish balladry is allowed to shine. The accompaniment is sparse, but effective, and the combination of guitar, upright bass, subtle percussion and classic Klezmer-instruments like violin and accordion provide the perfect foil for Van den Berg's musical tales.

The opener, "A Kleyn Wiglid Far A Groyse Libe," is an achievement in itself. With its eight minutes, it's a ballad of epic proportions that starts with a gently picked guitar before Van den Berg's voice enters. The song slowly builds in tension as bass and a weeping violin is added and in the end, percussionist Ines Klink joins as Van den Berg's swirls in a wordless cry.

The violin is a prominent instrument on the album and Madelien Verheij really makes it sing like a human voice. So much so, that it's almost like a duet where Verheij makes the strings burn with emotion. But it's not all deep balladry, there's also room for a joyful dance on "Wolekh" where Sanne Möricke's accordion takes the spotlight in a song filled with restless energy. Like all the music on the album, it's intense and soulful and proves that folk music isn't a thing of the past, but a timeless expression of the human heart.

Arik Strauss
Mostly Ballads
2012

Pianist Arik Strauss grew up in Israel and also knows about Jewish culture, but he is more influenced by the tradition of American standards than Klezmer music. However, he does have something in common with Lucette van den Berg: Both share the ability to sing from the heart. Van den Berg does this through her voice and Strauss uses the keys of the piano.

As the title of his album Mostly Ballads implies, Strauss explores the form of the ballad, and it is not an easy form to master. As fellow pianist Marc Copland once remarked in the notes to his album Haunted Heart & Other Ballads: "Playing ballads is, in many ways, the ultimate challenge. A ballad is like a window into the soul of the artist."

Strauss meets the challenge and comes away as a winner because he dares to enter the emotional territory where a ballad becomes interesting. "In My Father's Song" he plays with refined sense of feeling and sensitivity somewhere between Bill Evans and Frédéric Chopin and yet there's also the charm of the pop song present.

It is characteristic of Strauss that he is open to many influences. Thus, there's a clear taste of Bossa Nova in the appropriately titled "Paris Bossa" where he quotes Antonio Carlos Jobim's "The Girl from Ipanema" and receives tasteful backing from his trio of drummer Dudu Kochav and bassist Tal Ronen. Together these three balladeers get the best out of the material and capture the sweetness and sadness of love in all its guises.

Andrew Read Trio
A2B
2012

Another excellent piano trio on Dot Time Records is helmed by bassist Andrew Read and luckily he finds time to play music while also running the label with Jo Bickhardt. On the album Through the Years, the trio of Read, pianist Hans Kawakkernaat and drummer Erik Poorterman is joined by two guest stars: vocalist Lilis Mackintosh and saxophonist Wouter Kiers. The lovely hazy voice of Mackintosh and Kiers' smoky saxophone is certainly not something to miss, but the trio can be heard in its purest form on A2B where their musical chemistry is on full display.

"Absent Friends" kicks things off and immediately throws the trio into the eye of hurricane. Kawakkernaat paints with broad brushstrokes that bring both Herbie Hancock and McCoy Tyner to mind and Read anchors the groove solidly and delivers an organic solo that leaves out unnecessary embellishment and gets directly into the feeling of the music.

While the album begins with a sophisticated hard-bop tune, things proceed in a swinging style in the reading of the standard "If I Were a Bell" where drummer Poorterman changes effortlessly between complicated breaks and relaxed playing with brushes.

The trio certainly has a soft spot for good, timeless melodies and knows how to treat a standard like "Caravan" or "Night and Day." They also pay respect to a lyrical master like Bill Evans on "How My Heart Sings," and bring in their own tunes that hold up well in the prominent company.

Whether playing songs from their own book, great American standards or embracing material from Evans, the trio infuses the music with dynamism and sensibility that allow the material to sigh, swing and sing.

Simone Gubbiotti
Promise to a Friend
2013

Dot Time Records doesn't restrict itself to piano trios, guitarist Simone Gubbiotti's Promise to a Friend is a good example of record where the strings replace the keys as the center of attention. However, Gubbiotti hasn't enlisted anonymous backing. Bassist Derek Oles and drummer Peter Erskine can only be characterized as top tier players and they do their best to flesh out the leader's memorable melodies.

When Gubbiotti did a Take Five with All About Jazz, he spoke about his approach to music: "My approach to music is simple, I try to do my best every day, I try to learn something every day and being late, due to my path to it, I practice as hard as I can. I put all my emotion into it because I think that energy and a great heart are very important."

Emotion is the keyword in Gubbiotti's music. He plays with his heart and his compositions have an almost timeless quality about them, like the title track with its wistful melody and ticking Bossa Nova rhythms and "Always" with its crisp chords and swinging feel.

Gubbiotti has mentioned Wes Montgomery as an inspiration and Montgomery's refined way of approaching the instrument can also be heard in Gubbiotti's warm sound and there's a wonderful sense of calmness in the middle of it all. A reflective mood that is also depicted on the cover with the guitarist sitting on a bench near the sea with a sky lit up by clouds.

Gubbiotti doesn't play like a guitarist that needs to make his way in the world. He plays like a guitarist that has already made it and is able to reflect on the world through his music.

Matt Baker
Underground
2012

With an office in the Netherlands and one of the owners based in that country, it is natural that Dot Time Records has a close connection to the Dutch jazz scene, but the label also has a jazz office in New York and has its finger on the pulse when it comes to the sound of the city.

Australian-born Pianist Matt Baker is one of the label's New York-signings and his album Underground has an all-star cast of New York cats that include drummer Gregory Hutchinson and trumpeter Jeremy Pelt.

The opener is a skewed take on "I Wish I Were Bell" with odd time signatures and breaks, but the swinging pulse of the tune is intact. The group's version of Duke Ellington's "Mood Indigo" is just as idiosyncratic. It is played in 5/4 and features a superb singing bass solo from Joe Sanders.

The group sheds new light on familiar material, but there's also a healthy dose of originals. The making of "Refuge" has actually been the subject of a short documentary that can be found on YouTube. Here it is possible to follow these creative musicians as they unfold their mastery. The writing is complex, but also melodic and accessible and throughout there are strong solos from Pelt and saxophonist Dayna Stephens.

The title of the album might be Underground, but Baker's band shouldn't remain a secret only known by those hip few in the know. It's an album that captures the energy and innovation of the New York jazz scene and it deserves wide exposure.

Thelonious 4
Thelonious4 meets Tony Miceli
2013

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