"It was the DIY movement that inspired me to create a platform for projects that I thought should see the light of day," says percussionist Jeff Arnal
of his label, Generate Records. "Friends and I used to make cassettes, which we would distribute in small quantities, but the label format and moving to CDs has allowed more people to hear what we're doing. Having the finished product brings a sort of closure to each project." The small but vital outlet celebrates its tenth anniversary this summer with an afternoon of music at Roosevelt Live. To coincide with the event, a label overview is being released that presents highlights from the indie's released contributions as well as sampling a few tantalizing aggregates that have yet to see the light of day. Additionally, there will be three 7" singles released by the artists performing at the celebration, comprising the first new Generate titles since May of 2008. Along with the compilation, these demonstrate the many fascinating and complex sound worlds a Generate release might evoke.
It all began with a duo CDR, now out of print, featuring Arnal's percussion and Philip Wofford's tenor saxophone in one of his two appearances in the Generate catalogue. "We'd been working together for a couple of years and we both thought the duo recordings were successful. I sent a fair amount of material to record labels and grew tired of their refusals, however valid the reasons were; we just decided to take matters into our own hands." This initial foray is represented on the new compilation by the harrowing "In Sink." It's a rollercoaster ride through the New Thing aesthetics in which Arnal was immersed during his graduate studies at Bennington College, with both Milford Graves and Charles Gayle. "I improvised with Gayle every Thursday morning and we did several concerts together; it was a real pleasure. Graves really got me exploring issues relating to advanced drum set techniquecan you play five in your feet against three in your hands?" Working with these two established masters shaped the visceral and technical command evident in Arnal's playing. Just listen to another duo track, "Downtown Deal," from the second Generate release. In collaboration with clarinetist John Dierker, Arnal demonstrates the essence of sublimated energy by transferring the scronk and clatter of the '60s to translucent brushes. The density of the performance is counterbalanced by a sense of timbral transparency, reducing the volume and allowing for each motific gesture to be heard with clarity, even with the brightly reverberant acoustics.
Contrast these high-voltage explorations with the label's more introspective recordings, those including pianist and composer Gordon Beeferman being standout examples. The duo disc Bodies of Water
is represented on the anniversary compilation by the slowly morphing "I Dip My Hands Once Again in the Ocean." Beeferman's pianism does not usually reflect the clustered percussives of free improvisation pioneers such as Cecil Taylor or Don Pullen; rather, he explores small scalar ideas, repeating them and then drawing chords from them. Arnal's playing is a model of contained support, reactive and propulsive by turn but always incorporating enough space and measured silences for Beeferman's ideas to build naturally and freely. In these performances, Arnal exhibits a startling sense of melody, countering the pianistic ideas with pitched material of his own. He relates this aspect of his playing to studies with composer Stuart Saunders Smith. "He really changed my life," smiles Arnal. "His compositions are quite complex and his percussion writing is very melodicI learned a lot from that."
More recently, Generate's catalogue has begun to feature groups that do not include Arnal; the most recent full-length disc came from the Fulminate Trio, featuring percussionist Michael Evans, bassist Ken Filiano and guitarist Anders Nilsson. Similarly, two of the new 7" singles also document these departures, expanding the label's sound and focus in the process. There is the fire and brimstone of Aperiodic, a trio including guitarist Kevin Parrett, bassist Benjamin Perkins and drummer Matthias Schultz. Their "Air Below Mountains" eschews the Cecil Taylor homage implied by the title, falling somewhere just outside of '60s AMM influence, taking a page or two from Throbbing Gristle's book of delicately distorted textures. "I grew up listening to all kinds of music and, like many others my age, I had a garage band, played punk and experimented with noise collages on a four-track. I really appreciate the sonic world they create."
Beeferman's Music for an Imaginary Band, comprising such fine experimentalists as trumpeter Nate Wooley and saxophonist Matt Bauder among others, is also featured on a 7," providing a rare chance to hear his harmonically rich compositions. Even the one single on which Arnal plays speaks to aspects of his playing as yet underdocumented by Generate. "Brooklyn Mantra" pairs him with West-coast guitarist Ernesto Diaz-Infante for two improvisations that blend drone with more of Arnal's melodic percussion. "I'm very proud of these new releases," says Arnal. "They document long-time musical interests of mine in new ways and I am enjoying the shorter forms that the music is taking."
Indeed, these three new discs are some of the best the label has produced. They hearken back to earlier label efforts, like the projects with Beeferman or material from the group Tripwire, but they also portend a very exciting future for a very consistent independent label.