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Jordi Pujol & Fresh Sound Records


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A simple, yet incredibly intriguing question stimulated me to pursue a label profile for the remarkable Fresh Sounds, 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 they were 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 Sounds/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 Sounds pieces recently, including:

Trumpeter David Weiss's Breathing Room

Belgian alto saxophonist Stephane Mercier's Flor De Luna

Israeli bassist's Omer Avital's Think With Your Heart

Spanish bassist's Alexis Cuadrado's Metro

Saxophonist Andrew Rathbun's True Stories

Pianist Roberta Piket's speak, memory

Three George Colligan discs Como La Vida Puede Ser, Unresolved, and Desire.

Let's summarize shall we-there is a whole lot of positivity being conveyed at AAJ regarding the Fresh Sounds 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&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

All About Jazz: Where are you based? Barcelona right?

Jordi Pujol: 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 Sounds" 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?

JP: Mehldau & Rossy Trio When I Fall in Love (FSNT-007); Carme Canela Introducing (FSNT-014); Kurt Rosenwinkel East Coast Love Affair (FSNT-016); Chris Cheek A Girl named Joe (FSNT-032); Bill McHenry Rest Stop (FSNT-033); Nat Su The Jway (FSNT-038); Ethan Iverson Deconstruction Zone (FSNT-047); Michael Kanan Convergence (FSNT- 055); The New Jazz Composers Octet First Steps Into reality (FSNT-059); Amos Hoffman The Dreamer (FSNT- 060); Reid Anderson Abolish Bad Architecture, (FSNT-062); Seamus Blake Stranger Things Have Happened (FSNT-063); Ethan Iverson Minor Passions (FSNT-064); Renzi/Weinstein/Kamaguchi Line and Ballads (FSNT-065); OAM Trio Trilingual (FSNT-070); Ben Waltzer In Metropolitan Motion (FSNT-082); Gorka Benitez Trio (FSNT-073); David Xirgu Quartet Indolents (FSNT-077); Chris Cheek Vine (FSNT-086); Seamus Blake-Marc Miralta SunSol (FSNT-087); Phil Grenadier Sweet Transients FSNT-093); Reid Anderson The Vastness of Space (FSNT-096); Andrew Rathbun True Stories (FSNT-099); Marcus Strickland Quartet At Last FSNT-101); George Colligan Como la vida puededser (FSNT-102); The Omer Avital Group Think with Your Heart (FSNT-104); Agnar Magnusson 01 (FSNT-106); The Bad Plus (FSNT-107); Vardan Ovsepian Abandoned Wheel (FSNT-108); Pablo Ablanedo From Down There (FSNT-109); David Weiss Breathing Room (FSNT-110); Alexis Cuadrado Metro (FSNT-111); Sebasti?n Weiss Momentum (FSNT-114); Marlon Browden Trio (FSNT-115); Daniel Freedman Trio (FSNT-116); Albert Bover Esmuc Blues (FSNT-117); Rebecca Martin Middlehope (FSNT-1118); and Miguel Zenon Looking Forward (FSNT-119).

AAJ: Can you expand a bit more on how your incredible roster of jazz artists came to be on the Fresh Sounds label? How do you find the "fresh, new talent"? Who are your "talent scouts"?

JP: Basically, I already told you how the first musicians started. In New York, David Weiss is a good friend and we work very well together. Everytime he hears a new artist he's exicited about like Jeremy Pelt or Marcus Strickland, he letsme know. Other musicians knew "Fresh Sound" through their friends who had already released albums with us and who highly recommended that they contact me-and from then on, many of them did. They sent recordings of their own projects and ideas on CDR. If I liked the proposal, then we'd talk and do a deal. From that point on, I give them as much complete freedom in doing the recordings as they want. I like to have their projects exactly howthey have them in mind. This is a very important aspect of my philosophy,that there are no conditions from my part. I think that is what really excites and impassions me in producing this catalog. The day I receive the final master, I feel very satisfied. And if you've heard the music of this catalog, I know you'll find that it is really sincere and made without commercial expectations or criteria.

AAJ: I could not agree more. So how do you usually structure a deal with a new artist? How does it differ from a deal you may strike with a returning artist?

JP: It depends on who it is. Also, a first record is not the same as a second. They know that, so I try to keep the relationship very clear and straightforward. A second CD is always different. Almost all of our artists have made a second CD and the conditions are better for them on that follow-up release. We know each other much better and there is more confidence between us.

AAJ: Where are the dates usually done?

JP: The musicians choose the dates according to their schedules, in studios of their choice, that fit within the budget considerations covered in our deals.

AAJ: How long does the average jazz date take to complete, recording wise?

JP: A recording is usually made in two recording days. Then there's one day of mixing and one day of mastering.

AAJ: How long does it then take the date to get mixed mastered and manufactured?

JP: After the mixing and mastering it depends on the cover artwork. Normally it takes a certain time to do thecover. But as soon the art is ready, it takes about a month.

AAJ: Who is the best US reseller to get your cds from?

JP: Tower Records or J&R Music World.

AAJ: Are some of your recordings easier to get in the US, or other countries in the world, than others?

JP: Yes, but don't ask me why. All our records are usually distributed by the same company: Boulevard Distribution in Los Angeles. All of our CDs should be available.

AAJ: Please explain a bit about all your other labels. It's a daunting and amazing amount of music.

JP: Fresh Sound "World Jazz" is a brother label to "New Talent". Many of the artists are the same and the recordings are more open to a mix of jazz language and other musics. I can highly recommend Emilio Solla y afines Folcolores (FSWJ-001); Diego Urcola Libertango (FSWJ-005); Freddie Bryant Boogaloo Brasileiro (FSNT-008); Sdajazz Latin Ensemble Este tambin (FSWJ-011); Emilio Solla y la Orquestable Suite Piazzollana (FSWJ-018)...

"El bandonen" was born in 1988. I created this label with the intention of recovering the recordings of the great figures of the tango music. We have more than 150 CDs on that label. Another brother label of "El bandonen" is "Maestros del Tango" which appeared several years later with the same idea. Now everything is concentrated again in "el bandonen".

"Tumbao Cuban Classics" is, since 1989, the pioneer record label in the recovering and preserving on CD the most important recordings made by the genuine creators of the popular Cuban and Caribbean music of the 20th century. I traveled to Cuba several times in the early Nineties and Tumbao is the result of a decade of investigation, bringing forward a lot of information and much unpublished documentation, both in photography and the written word. We have more than 150 CDs available on that label, and I enjoyed very much producing this CD collection.

Other labels are "Alma Latina" dedicated mainly to the bolero, fado, ranchera, and mambo music sang by the great Latin singers from Spain, Mexico, Portugal, Puerto Rico, Cuba, Argentina etc. There are other interesting labels such as "Caney," "Ubatuqui," Blue Moon "Serie Lerica," etc.

AAJ: Please expand on the reissue aspect of your company.

JP: Fresh Sound is still reissuing many jazz CDs, but some include unreleased material too. Some are well- known names and others are more obscure artists. The label has always been using that policy. We have also reissued about 200 RCA recordings on CD.

AAJ: Tell us about your love of US West Coast jazz.

JP: West Coast Jazz was the main reason we started Fresh Sound Records at the beginning. I liked the concepts of the major arrangers very much. The music was fresh and elaborate at the same time. Every arranger had a very distinctive touch, including Shorty Rogers, Marty Paich, Bill Holman, and Henry Mancini. The soloists were all fantastic, like Frank Rosolino, Bob Cooper, Art Pepper, and Lou Levys and I really was fascinated about that sound and that aesthetic.

AAJ: What Spanish or European artists on your label would you say are more widely deserving of exposure?

JP: I can give you some names as Gorka Benitez, David Xirgu, the singer Carme Canela, Elisabet Raspall, Benet Palet, Lluis Vidal. There are also some great South American artists such as Emilio Solla, Pablo Ablanedo and Jose Reinoso.

AAJ: What do you see in the future for your label?

JP: I see very good musicians doing good and exciting music. I would like "New Talent" and "World Jazz" to become a reference label for new jazz lovers. That will mean that the music produced by the musicians is really strong and creative.

AAJ: Do you have a very specific 2 or 5 year plan?

JP: No I don't have any specific plan. I like to improvise. I feel much more free and a much open to other points of view. The catalog cannot be subject to a plan. Every day new things happen and new ideas are born, so I just wish to continue supporting all the people in the catalog and bringing new names to recognition.

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