Sonorama: Putting the Past in the Future

Sonorama: Putting the Past in the Future
Jakob Baekgaard By

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It takes a collector to know what a collector wants. Ekkehart Fleischhammer who runs the German reissue label Sonorama has been in the record business since 2004, but he has spent far more time enjoying and searching for music. His own expertise and sense of quality is the foundation for Sonorama Records whose specialty is the forgotten gems of the past and the rare items on the collector's market. The catalog consists of true gems in many genres: hard bop, cool jazz, bossa nova, fusion, soul jazz and even a record with a harp. Not much music escapes Fleischhammer's attention and he has also compiled some stellar compilations of funk and German jazz: The Color of Funk Vol. 1 and 2 and Now's the Time Vol. 1 and 2.

All About Jazz: When did you become owner of a record label?

Ekkehart Fleischhammer: I started it in June 2004 as a reissue-label for jazz, funk and soul with a 7inch vinyl record incl. an unreleased track by the legendary Elsie Bianchi Trio from Switzerland plus a re-edit by Ben Human (Ben Addison) on the flipside. Then I established my partnership with worldwide distributor Groove Attack, presenting a release schedule for the coming years that they immediately became interested in. After some releases I was able to join the German association of independent record manufacturers with Sonorama Records in 2006. The idea behind it is to expose quality music and rare or previously unreleased international items from the area of jazz, funk and soul music of the 1950s-1980s without the "high-brow" perspective of the jazz police.

AAJ: Why did you choose the name Sonorama? Is there a story behind the name?

EF: It is an old expression, a mixture of "Sonus" and "Panorama," so to say a panorama of vintage sounds—as a kind of motto for the label work. Famous Mexican orchestra leader Juan Garcia Esquivel was supported by a so called "Sonorama Orchestra." Later I discovered that a long gone French television and radio magazine used the same name.

AAJ: As a collector of records, what do you look for? What makes a record collectable?

EF: It must always include good music and touch me in a spiritual sense. Even better if it is of historical importance regarding the available repertoire/ back catalogue of a genre and can be connected to other music and close a gap in certain fields of music that people or especially the record industry forgot about ... because of financial circumstances or greed. Good recordings are spontaneous artifacts from the past and that's why most of the good old jazz records were recorded in one take.

AAJ: How many people are involved with the label and what is your own role?

EF: Of course, there are many people involved, it may be with their work for the cover design, the mastering or with other kind of (sometimes idealistic) support. I am the only one responsible for the label as founder, researcher, licensor, compiler, product manager, writer of liner notes ... and buyer of toilet paper. After 80 releases up to date I have to say thanks and pay respect to many publishers, producers, musicians, other record labels and, and, and.... You know who you are and thanks for still letting me do this.

AAJ: Tell me about the packaging and design of your albums. Do you have a specific approach to the design of your albums and the inclusion of material like liner notes or photography?

EF: For 1:1 re-issues we always try to reproduce the original album cover and liner notes for vinyl LP and CD, while we develop our own designs and sleeve notes in case of compilations or albums including previously unreleased material. We use several sources for the licensing of original photos from the time the music was produced, incl. photos from German jazz archives, collectors' archives or directly from old jazz photographers. High quality cutting, analogue restoring and remastering has been done by specialists from Berlin and Cologne over the years. All our CD releases come in digipacks, mostly as fold out 6-page-digipack and sometimes including booklets. Design is very important to us, probably because we are collectors ourselves.

AAJ: You have many different genres on your label from many different countries. Is this a conscious choice or a coincidence? What would you say is your focus when choosing a record for release? What is the aesthetic criteria?

EF: The quality of music, the grading if it is a rarity and if there is an audience and the belief that people need to hear that. All music comes from the area of jazz, funk or soul. Some music occurs by coincidence from archives or old producers. I have been sifting through many publishers' archives in the past. And the fact is that the choice always depends on whether there is a possibility for licensing. Regarding the repertoire we recently reworked material with a strong eye on our European jazz roots. Only a few American artists e.g. Mark Murphy, Donald Byrd, Freddy Cole or Carlos Franzetti have been released on our label, while most of the releases have a European origin due to the near sources and personal contacts in Germany, France, Italy, Switzerland and Sweden.

AAJ: How do you find the records you release. For instance, what is the story behind your access to the archives of Barney Wilen?

EF: I found most of them in archives, in friends' collections, on record fairs/ flea markets or on the internet. The jazz and electronic music artist Bruno Spoerri from Zuerich (who was just illegally sampled by US-Rapper Jay-Z) arranged a discussion between Barney Wilen's son Patrick Wilen and me three years ago. Then I was invited to Spain for investigating Barney Wilen's musical heritage, where the unreleased acetates from Jazz In Camera by Donald Byrd and Barney Wilen (released as Sonorama-65) were presented to me. I also got access to over 60 tape reels with music recorded by Barney Wilen in Africa. With the support of Barney Wilen's son Patrick, Caroline De Bendern (Barney's wife back then) and producer Roskow Kretschmann from Berlin, we were proud to edit and compile the CD/ 2LP-Set: Barney Wilen: Moshi Too (Sonorama-72) from last year.

AAJ: Could you tell me about the process of releasing a record. How long does it typically take before a project is finished?

EF: You cannot define—some productions only need a few weeks while others need months or even years.

AAJ: Many artists on the label speak very warmly about the projects you have done. Could you elaborate on your relationship with the artists?

EF: I always tried to work with emotionally devoted artists and have the luck to know or have met some of them. I have a deep respect for the lifetime work of artists such as Greetje Kauffeld, Rolf Kühn, Mark Murphy, Freddy Cole or Bruno Spoerri and meeting them was a truly moving experience. Great artists are very modest!

AAJ: What is your take on the reissue business? Are there any specific labels that you admire and any pitfalls that you try to avoid?

EF: I do not want to criticize other labels here. There are many other reissue labels from all over the world. Of course some do excellent work and some don't. May the music fan decide.

AAJ: You encourage contact with customers on your website. What kind of response do you receive and do you have an idea of your target group?

EF: I get ideas for reissues as well as feedback from customers, journalists, musicians from the releases, people who write jazz books or catalogues, eye-witnesses. The target of the label is "putting the past in the future," to save culture in the form of lost quality music. The target group is open-minded lovers of good jazz music in general.

AAJ: If you have to single out some records, what projects are you most proud of? Any specific highlights?

EF: Attila Zoller—Jazz Soundtracks, Barney Wilen—Moshi Too, Donald Byrd and Barney Wilen—Jazz In Camera, Inge Brandenburg—It`s Alright With Me, Elsie Bianchi—Fly Me To The Moon, Freddy Cole—The Cole Nobody Knows, Greetje Kauffeld—Tender Meditation and Heaven's Open, Mombasa—African Rhythms and Blues Vol. 1 and 2, German Jazz Compilations Now's The Time Vol. 1 and 2.

AAJ: How important is it to you that there is a physical product? Could you imagine Sonorama as an all-digital label?

EF: No, although most of our releases can be streamed and downloaded from well-known service providers. Collecting digital files on your mobile or computer cannot replace the experience of a vinyl record or audio CD, the artwork, the cover, the photos or the liner notes. The reissue of a historic album is some kind of rebuilt or remodelled artwork of a cultural artifact that people are happy to own and display at home ... more than a compressed mixture of "1" and "0."

AAJ: How does it work with the distribution and how does your release schedule look? Any upcoming projects?

EF: Sonorama (www.sonorama.de) is getting distributed worldwide over Groove Attack distribution in Cologne (www.grooveattack.com). We are careful in announcing reissues early because a few titles (like Mario Rusca—Reaction) have been bootlegged shortly before our official release appeared. Present and upcoming projects for 2014 include rare or unreleased recordings by European jazz masters like Hans Koller, Albert Mangelsdorff or Rolf Kühn / Joachim Kühn.

Ekkehart Fleischhammer might be somewhat secretive about his future projects, but there is plenty to explore in the catalog already as the following list, which is only a small selection of the label's treasures, reveals.

Reginaldo Bessa
Amor En Bossa Nova

Connoisseurs of the Brazilian art of the bossa nova will find many gems in the catalog of Sonorama. One of them is the album Amor En Bossa Nova by Brazilian singer, songwriter and guitarist Reginaldo Bessa.

The story behind album is quite special. It was recorded in Argentina in 1963 in the big city of Buenos Aires and as Bessa himself recalls: "I was the first Brazilian to record a bossa nova album in a foreign country. The Musicians who recorded with me were all Argentina born. It was a hard task telling them about the whole thing. I was the composer, the singer and above all a teacher."

Judging from the final result, Bessa was a very successful teacher. The melancholy-tinged Brazilian ballad, with the characteristic light touch, is embodied perfectly on a composition like "Solo" where the gentle rhythm marked by claves is complimented by woodwinds that blow like a gentle breeze, painting a picture of an abandoned lover walking along the beach in the warm sand while the sun sets over the horizon.

The bulk of the record consists of Bessa's distinctive compositions, but there is also room for other material, including two songs from the composer Dorival Caymmi, whose "Sabado En Copacabana" is pure perfection with its shuffling acoustic rhythm and singing flutes. Like the rest of the album, it is a song carried by a deep love of the bossa nova. It is also music that it is easy to fall in love with.

Freddy Cole
The Cole Nobody Knows


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