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Fresh Sound Records

Phil DiPietro By

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A simple, yet incredibly intriguing question stimulated me to pursue a label profile for the remarkable Fresh Sound New Talent jazz label. That is, why is the vibrant New York City small-group jazz scene being documented by a label out of Barcelona?

Until recently, I was under the assumption that it was US-based. I confess, my familiarity with the label was limited solely for a time to my first dose of one Kurt Rosenwinkel (East Coast Love Affair (FSNT-016), who received a well-deserved boost in worldwide notoriety through his subsequent association with Verve. Of late, I was fortunate enough to interview Kurt's contemporary and successor in Paul Motian's electric bebop band, Mr. Ben Monder. Ben records under his own name on Arabesque and Songlines, but pointed me, (and the rest of you) after some prodding, to a few of his noteworthy appearances on Fresh Sounds, including Chris Cheek's A Girl named Joe (stupendous), The Gorka Benitez trio (FSNT-073-fantastic), Bill McHenry's Rest Stop (FSNT-033-superb) and Reid Anderson's The Vastness of Space (where I must pause to gather up myself).

Now, Vastness received a very nice review from our own David Adler and some cool mention in other media, but trust me, these undemonstrative pundits are all understating. The Vastness of Space is one of the finest small group recordings in recent memory, of all time, even. Come to find out it was knocked out in two recording days, as are all of the Fresh Sounds products. Mr. Adler applied the word "hooks" to the melodies on this record, a wonderful turning of phrase, making good use of a pop-associated term, with which I whole-heartedly concur. After much deeper digging into the catalogue, I think it's the label's shining achievement thus far, a five-and-a-quarter-star deserving masterstroke for an imprint that is as close to a label guarantee as fans of small group mainstream jazz are going to get today. In today's world of megacorporately downsized, relic labels, fronting with nostalgic bravado as their former nurturing and caring fraternities of musical apprenticeship and camaraderie, Fresh Sound New Talent is the new name tantamount to the "Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval" for today's mainstream jazz lover.

We've reviewed some great Fresh Sound recordings recently, including:



Let's summarize shall we-there is a whole lot of positivity being conveyed at AAJ regarding the Fresh Sound and the New Talent.

Here are a couple more newer releases:

With the release of Vine, Chris Cheek takes his place in the contemporary jazz world as an improvising saxophonist and composer of up-to-the-minute sophistication and taste. He's joined by two of the most heralded young voices in mainstream jazz today, Brad Mehldau and Kurt Rosenwinkel, as well as bassist Matt Penman and Fresh Sounds "house" drummer and original A and R man (check out the interview) Jorge Rossy. This is a new kind of "Young Lions"- let's call them "The Matadors" in the arena of Fresh Sounds.

Brad and Kurt mix it up nicely by throwing fans of their previous work some huge curveballs. Mehldau plays Fender Rhodes on all but three tracks, quickly proving himself a non-derivative stylist on the electric 88, which he achieves in large part by telepathically blending with Rosenwinkel's guitar. Kurt, in turn, willingly screws up his sound and phrasing in spots, giving us some distortion, grit and variation in trademark crystalline bop tone, while maintaining the advanced linear harmonic concept for which he's noted. There are hints of drum'n'bass, Latin-tinged tunes, incredible tenor/guitar unison lines, a 12/8 tune and a couple folkier melodies that recall Cheek's previous work on "A Girl Named Joe".

For a bold antithesis to Vine, check out a band for which the label reached out a little more into the left hand side of America, the Minneapolis-based Bad Plus, consisting of pianist Ethan Iverson, bassist Reid Anderson (again), and uber drummer David King. The self-proclaimed "loudest piano trio ever" lives up to their hype by covering ABBA's "Knowing Me, Knowing You, " Nirvana's "Smells Like Teen Spirit, " and Rodgers & Hart's "Blue Moon", with the pianist and bassist each chipping in with two originals.

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