In Turkey the word "effendi" is a title of great respect. Based on the impressive track record Effendi Records has assembled in a relatively short period of time, it has certainly earned the same kind of respect. Since its inception in 1999, this Montreal-based label has released 46 albums, many of which have been critically acclaimed and have won major music awards in Canada and abroad, including Francois Bourassa Trio's Andre Leroux Live
, winner of 2003 Album of the Year in Portugal; and Francois Theberge 5 Featuring Lee Konitz
, winner of the French magazine Jazzman
's 2002 award for Best Jazz Album. The label itself was nominated for Label of the Year at the Canadian National Jazz Awards in 2002, 2003 and 2004.
Effendi's trademark is challenging the listener with something other than the standard theme/solos/trade of fours/restatement of theme formula. From the hard bop stylings of the Effendi Jazzlab and the No Name Sextet to the stark chord musings of pianist Baptiste Trotignon to Yves Leveille incorporating the French horn into his "chamber jazz" format, Effendi's artists produce work that stands outside and above the commonplace, stimulating the imagination. The label was founded by bassist, educator and composer Alain Bedard (a 2003 nominee for Producer of the Year at the National Jazz Awards) and his wife, vocalist Carole Therrien. Although both are musicians, their decision to start a record label wasn't a vanity enterprise, as Ms. Therien explained via e-mail.
"Our first goal was to promote local artists and their music. Many [of our] colleagues had the money to make a record but the labels weren't interested because the artists were unknown, or they didn't like the kind of jazz they played."
As the label gained momentum, it almost became overwhelming. "We now receive many demos from the United States and Europe. We went from a local label to one of the most important independent jazz labels in Canada. Now we are looking for foreign artists as well in order to help us find distributors in other countries. Same thing applies to Canada. Many of the artists live in Montreal but many come from other provinces. If it can help to have our CDs all over Canada, this is what we have to do."
Despite all of the acclaim, Effendi still has distribution problems which have prevented the label from really cracking the big time. Ironically, the biggest reason for its success might also be its most formidable barrier. "Because our jazz isn't 'easy listening' it hasn't been easy to get our CDs in stores, although they've won many awards," Therrien explained. "The [major labels] take up so much space and there are so many new releases every week, that the lifespan of an album is shorter than before."
Effendi packages its discs in standard plastic jewel cases. The liner notes are either in French or French and English, a reflection of Montreal's dilemma of bilingualism. The most striking aspects of the liner notes though are the poetic passages which more than a few of the artists contribute, as well as the unusual graphics and artwork gracing the covers.
"We wanted to have a signature, like ECM," Therrien said. "Even when we don't produce the album but license it, we will insist that the artwork is done by the designer we work with so that the musician will be associated with our label."
Pianist Yves Leveille was the leader on Effendi's first release, Signal commun
. Two subsequent discs, Quantique
and Zone Indigene
, have been acclaimed and nominated for awards. He reflected on being present at the creation during a recent phone conversation.
"Alain and Carole wanted to create a new label to allow Montreal musicians to come up with their kind of music. Since they were friends of mine, they asked me 'Why don't you record your CD on our label?' As it turned out, there were some other artists in Montreal who were ready to record, Greg Amirault and the group FACT, so we all went in and recorded Effendi's first three CDs."
When asked about the kind of creative control and freedom artists have at Effendi, Leveille was unequivocal in his praise. "Alain and Carole are also musicians, so they're very careful and attentive with jazz musicians in Montreal. It's totally open and Effendi likes musicians who create their own stuff. We are totally free. The signature of Effendi, in my opinion, is musicians ready to play something new and original to continue the jazz tradition. Alain and Carole are passionate about jazz and that's why they're open to new things."
Although Effendi has freelancers who take care of graphics, running the website, translations and other tasks, Bedard and Therrien still basically run the label themselves. And finding a balance between running Effendi and pursuing their own musical careers is quite a challenge. "There are times when concerts, tours and CD launches happen simultaneously and then there are months where we have practically nothing to do," Therrien said. "Selling more CDs would mean that we could afford to hire more people, which is why we're trying to find distribution in other countries." The next discs scheduled for release this month are Polychromy
by Jean-Christophe Beney, a French tenor saxophonist; and one by Canadian bassist Michel Donato entitled Michel Donato et ses amis europeens
In discussing the choice of the label's name, Therrien revealed a deeper meaning behind the choice, which in effect serves as the label's mission statement. "The Greek root of "effendi" is afentis, which means "capacity to create" or "to master something". For us, it relates to jazz easily. That's why our motto is "Effendi - Master of Performance."
Visit Effendi Records on the web at www.effendirecords.com .