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.

They take the radio-friendly melodic material of others (as well as their own, which would make great additions to hip college-station playlists, for instance) forcefully radicalizing creativity, with a listener-friendly humorous bent. As they listen to consecutively diatonic and dissonant tone clusters set up against stylistic collisions, hipsters can take solace in "getting in early" on yet another relatively obscure unit with frighteningly obvious crossover potential.

You can watch this space for more links out to coming Fresh Sound reviews. In the meantime, let?s reveal the answer to the question that begins this spot. It comes in the form, really, of one man-the incredibly driven, resourceful and most importantly tasteful Jordi Pujol, president and chief-entrepreneur-in-charge of the FSNT appellation, and, as I came to find out, a double-fistful of other labels under the umbrella of Bluemoon. Check the vastness of their new website and consider this: Pujol has done much more than assemble a delectable, delicious, ever-increasing Tapas menu of uniformly tasty recordings. From his outpost in Barcelona, it cannot be denied, Pujol has fashioned not only a label, not only a deep catalogue, not only an all-star roster, but something more—achieved by a handful of labels before his — a readily identifiable aesthetic that weaves throughout the FSNT tapestry.

Meet Fresh Sounds Founder Jordi Pujol

AAJ: Where are you based? Barcelona, right?

JP: Yes.

AAJ: And how old are you?

JP: 49 years old.

AAJ: How long have you been in the music business? And in what capacity did you start?

JP: I?ve been in the record business since 1983. We started from zero. We had three partners at that time, but soon after that, we were reduced to two, Pedro Soley and I.

AAJ: Are you a musician yourself?

JP: No, not professionally, anyway. I played trumpet as an amateur from 1970 to 1980. Lee Morgan was my Idol.

AAJ: When did you start the Fresh Sound label?

JP: Fresh Sound was the first label we created, in the summer 1983. We started by reissuing West Coast Jazz LPs from the 50's from different labels owned by major companies such as RCA, Capitol, Pacific Jazz, Atlantic, etc. We did a lot of reissues. At that time, I was still working as a textile designer. I took my first trip to Los Angeles in 1984 (during my holiday season at work). On that trip, I began contacting several independent labels, based mostly in the Los Angeles area. So, as I went once a year, little by little I found more labels and LPs to add to the Fresh Sound catalog of reissues.

JP: During my first visit to Los Angeles, the first Fresh Sound LP was recorded at Britannia studios. It was during this first session that we recorded an LP by the Dave Pell Octet called Plays Again. When I met Pell in Los Angeles, I had already reissued several of his first LPs from the 50s. Before my trip, we talked on the phone several times and we became good friends. That's why we decided to record his octet again after 25 years. Dave Pell was a great, supportive and assisting person, and he put me in contact with other musicians. From then on, other recordings with West Coast artists were made over all those years. Some were recorded here in Barcelona and others in Los Angeles. We brought Bill Perkins, Claude Williamson, Frank Strazzeri, Don Menza, Charlie Mariano and Herb Geller to Barcelona. In LA, we recorded with Bob Cooper, Bill Perkins, Lou Levy, Bud Shank, Lennie Niehaus, Betty Bennett, Conte Candoli, Sue Raney, Lanny Morgan, etc.-all the great names from the West Coast jazz scene. In Los Angeles, Dick Bank has been very helpful during the last six years- he produced some great sessions. We have both a very similar taste in everything regarding the West Coast Jazz scene of today.

We have made about 50 recordings with established jazz names during these 18 years. Also, we recorded Tete Montoliu and three artists from the New York scene-JR. Monterose, Eddie Bert and recently the trio of the amazing pianist Harry Whitaker, who was Roberta Flack's musical director, a position he held for nine years. I remember he said, "I stopped because I started to sound like a jingle. I never like to play something the same way twice."

AAJ: How did it come to pass that a small boutique label in Spain is releasing recordings from downtown NYC musicians, such as Seamus Blake, Chris Cheek and Kurt Rosenwinkel as well as a Minneapolis, Minnesota bands like Reid Anderson's the Bad Plus?

JP: Since 1986, every time I traveled to Los Angeles (I spend two or three weeks there at a time) I also started to visit New York once a year. I listened to a lot of young musicians in some underground clubs but it was difficult for me to do anything at that time. I was concentrating too much on the reissues and the West Coast scene and musicians, so I preferred to wait.

In 1992 I started recording some young Barcelona groups. We exported these CDs to Japan, USA and several countries in Europe too. Then in 1993, when Brad Mehldau was playing in Barcelona, we recorded the trio with the Rossy brothers, Jorge (drums) and Mario (bass). This live recording from Barcelona was the first in Brad's career, and the first to become well known in the New Talent series. In 1995 I was in New York, and I went to a new club called "Smalls". I very much enjoyed the music the groups played there.

There I heard for the first time Myron Walden, Omer Avital, etc. Again, the idea that I originally had, that is, to record young musicians from New York, came to the forefront. At that time, Jorge Rossy, a very sensitive drummer and a good friend too, came to the office one day, and it was then that I explained my plan. He was very excited too, telling me he knew some good musicians in New York that were anxious to record. He introduced me to Ben Waltzer, Bill McHenry, Chris Cheek, Reid Anderson, Kurt Rosenwinkel and Mark Turner. All of them turned out to be outstanding musicians with a lot of energy and ideas. Things started slowly and grew from there. These musicians also came very often to play in Barcelona, which resulted in my introduction to others. I enjoyed continuing to record with the same musicians, but from then on many other very good musicians joined the catalog, so many that I don't want to mention here, only because it?s such a long list.

AAJ: In the jazz idiom, what records that you have released would you point the buyers to?


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