Label founder, Ravi Coltrane, passionately defends the "Music without filters" ethos that underpins the first three releases from RKM Music; "The major labels are falling apart and restructuring into bigger companies with bigger overhead. There is pressure to put out a product that conforms to formulas that sell: all star records, theme records, whatever...If Charlie Parker came back, he would have a hard time." The kind of music RKM is interested in doesn't neatly fit into these formulas and with the technology revolution, Ravi maintains that; "...resources are available to make quality recordings...without corporate filters."
Drawing additional inspiration from Rudy Van Gelder, whose relaxed atmosphere "...let the musicians speak", Ravi went about building his own studio; "I was getting into it and wanted guinea pigs." He didn't have to wait long. Sax/clarinetist Michael McGinnis shares the following; "When I was moving to NYC, Ralph Alessi (trumpeter and Ravi's musical comrade)suggested I move into Ravi's building. I ended up meeting Ravi in the stairwell. I was writing music, practicing and then gigging with my band "Between Green" and Ravi was getting into recording." The end result of 3 recording dates in 1999 was Tangents
, a forcefully robust debut CD for both RKM and McGinnis. Mike goes on to say that "... Tangents
captures a pure unadulterated crystallized version of our music. We still play that music but we stretch it out more. There is another record of music ready to go."
Surprising in its breadth and varied influences, Tangents
has tempos that change gears quickly and smoothly. Shane Endsley's trumpet meshes perfectly with McGinnis's expressiveness on the demandingly precise openings to "Indecision Insanity" and "Fried", while "The Fiddletwins" has sax cleverly playing the role of fiddle in a Celtic inspired romp. The band cooks with David Ambrosio's bass and Mark Dodge's drums high up in the mix making the quintet equal partners. "Finding the Balance" features especially agile changes that are deftly handled in a crisp yet even manner. Pianist Jacob Sacks rounds things out by skillfully switching from understatement to lead, showcasing a keen understanding of both phrasing and rhythm.
McGinnis shares Ravi Coltrane's appreciation for keeping the music close to the source; "Jazz should be heard as untouched as possible...with the pure thing knocked out as a record. The best art has little barriers." He then cites Kind of Blue
as his ideal example. "Kind of Blue
is different people talking; Adderley takes a turn with the conversation and then Trane, its like (the listener) is hangin' out with these guys." As for his own approach; "We are a tight group. These are my compositions but they are more musical directions. I like to think of it as going on a trip with different people taking a turn at the steering wheel."
For its second release, RKM looked to Alessi, but for a very different project. Vice and Virture
joins him with Shane Endsley, this time on drums, for a unique duet. Endsley's unpretentious percussion gives Alessi's horn plenty of room to plaintively cry for "Peace", as the Ornette Coleman composition begins and ends the CD. While one may think that it would be daunting for a musician to bare it all as Alessi does on Vice and Virtue
, he disagrees; "This was so easy to do and Ravi wanted to put it out. There was a definite organic flow." In this format Alessi is close to technically perfect without sacrificing his soul and when united with trombonist Tim Albright on a few cuts, the two make for an unexpectedly full sound. Such is the case on the catchy "Soy Ink" featured here and also given the full quintet treatment on This and That.
Although Ravi may eschew one-off All-Star CDs, Ralph Alessi can't help it that his long association with the musicians on 2002's This Against That
, RKM's third release, gives it what for most labels, would qualify as an All Star Group. Along with Alessi are clarinetist Don Byron, guitarist David Gilmore, Drew Gress on bass and drummer Nasheet Waits. "We did 3 gigs over a 5 to 6 month period and got the opportunity to record. We put down the music and that's how it came about." Alessi also feels that RKM's methodology gives the listener a pure version of the musician's intention. "This is a rare situation (for a musician). I do remember one ECM session I did with Michael Cain ( Circa
, ECM 1622), Manfred Eicher wasn't there and it was like being a kid in a candy store...but this is completely ideal."