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Michael Janisch: The Whirlwind, Paradigm Shift and London's Label of the Moment

Phil Barnes By

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However you look at it Michael Janisch is an extraordinarily driven, highly motivated, success story. Not only has he been the founder, owner and force behind London's wonderful Whirlwind Recordings for the last five years, but he has also just released one of 2015's finest albums in the adventurous 2CD set Paradigm Shift. It's no coincidence that the label takes Janisch's nickname "the whirlwind"—at the time of the interview in late October he was two thirds of the way through a 30 plus date UK tour in support of the album, a tour that, naturally, he had found time to manage including all of the day-to-day logistics!

Janisch is a comfortable leader with a musician's attention to the finest details, that is a powerful combination. He also has an ability to know the limits of his own knowledge and has a trusted inner circle of people and friends, whose contributions he clearly values and regularly refers to during our conversation.

"I think my background comes into it—I was captain of the sports teams I was on such as football and track, so I'm suited in that role and comfortable as a leader. I've got no problem with taking a task on and seeing it completed, even if it means I have to take on the entire project. That sort of thing never psyched me out and feels natural."

The initial impetus for Janisch setting up the label was the pragmatism of keeping control of his own master tapes, but he was quick to recognise the possibility of releasing material by other, sympathetic, musicians after Patrick Cornelius invited him to release his Fierce collection. Further releases followed with wider recognition coming from the release of Jeff Williams' Another Time album:

"It really started branching out... and once he [Jeff Williams] came on board that really picked it up, because then Phil Robson said to me 'you're releasing Jeff's album, oh I see.' After that a lot of the younger guys on the scene started approaching me...."

The landmark releases of the label since that point have been many but include Jim Hart's The Cloudmakers Trio with Ralph Alessi Live in London at Pizza Express, John O'Gallagher's The Anton Webern Project, Partisans Swamp and the Mike Gibbs + Twelve Play Gil Evans collection. The last of these was also a personal landmark for Janisch as a producer:

"The Mike Gibbs album was a 12 piece and that was a really big one for me because I produced that record on the day, worked with Mike to prepare... the concept of the album, it was a big undertaking. I didn't know a lot of those guys... a lot of big personalities from across the eclectic London scene—free players, straight ahead guys and then all under Mike Gibbs... That was a turning point for me as a producer; it gave me a lot of confidence."

It is arguable that Janisch's talent and credibility as a musician has enhanced his natural aptitude for running the business side—he can never be accused of not understanding the perspective of the working musician because he is one. This allows him to get involved and talk on the same level to musicians as someone who goes through the same hassles and irritations that they do for the love of their music. It also helps that Janisch treats Whirlwind releases as he would like his own to be handled, something that has helped foster a sense of community around the label:

"I want to make it clear that all of them are special to me. I'm proud of every single one -especially the ones I played on, produced or was in the studio... it's as if they were my own album. I think of all the good memories preparing, all the back and forth's with the artist. The label is a real community—there's a good vibe between all of the artists. We go to Jazzahead [conference] every year and I think last year 18 Whirlwind artists attended. It was a lot of fun, everyone got along so great like a big family."

It's a level of involvement that is unusual, clearly adds value and which his frequent billing as "Executive Producer" scarcely does justice to. Initial breaks may have come about through personal, musical, connections but these were opportunities that were not clear and needed to be recognised as such and grasped—which is always more straightforward in hindsight when success seems assured. For example, Whirlwind taking on John Escreet's classic Sabotage and Celebration came about during the course of a walk around a Brooklyn Park with the gifted pianist:

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