In a time when the music business, as many other other branches of commerce, is in crisis, it has become increasingly relevant to ask what needs to be done in order to save record labels. While the major companies retreat to protective copyright thinking and unimaginative repacking of archive material, a new host of independent labels is embracing the possibilities of the new digital area, seeing it as blessing rather than a curse. What drives these independent labels is the love of the music itself. Rather than thinking in cash and commerce terms, what counts to them is to have good music out there, no matter how difficult it may be to sell it, believing that great art eventually will find its way to those who seek it.
Pianist John Esposito's Sunjump label is an example of such an independent label. It has done a lot to promote that area of jazz music which lies outside the narrow definitions of commercial genres and target groups. It is the ability to take chances when no one else dares that has been the hallmark of Sunjump, and that was also the case back in the mid-1980s when Esposito had just recorded with his group Second Sight and was in search of label willing to put the music out.
"I formed Sunjump in 1986," says Esposito. "Second Sight had been together for a year. We did a short demo that no one was interested in and that we didn't really know what to do with. I felt we should go ahead and produce our own record date and try to sell the master to an established label or press it ourselves. We were in NYC and there were so many scam artists and disinterested or dishonest labels that I decided to try to release the album Flying With The Comet (Sunjump 1986/2007) on my own label and at least be in control of getting it out to radio and press. That turned out to be a good idea. I found a partner, Elliot Lloyd, who was very good at promotion. We got lots of airplay and press and worked in New York City and the northeast part of the USA quite a bit.
"We recorded a second CD, Tiger Tracks, the following year, 1987, but we didn't have the money to put it out. We also expanded a bit and released Jose Chalas' Living On Avenue F and Marc Wagnons Shadowlines. I ran out of money to produce projects, having a family with two kids to feed, so the label died. My business partner Lloyd went on to manage Matt Ship for a while, while working for a small label in NYC and died of lymphoma a few years later. Second Sight folded in 1990. Our last gigs were in Woodstock for the FM Artists Coalition. Everyone went on to do their own projects. I worked a lot as a sideman with [drummer] Franklin Kiermyer, [saxophonist] Eric Person and lots of other people. In 2003, with no family obligations, I decided to get back to concentrating on playing my own music and to reviving Sunjump."
Down Blue Marlin Road
The first release on the resurrected Sunjump label was a recording of Esposito's trio with bassist Ira Coleman and drummer Peter O'Brien, thereby setting the pattern of future releases with Esposito involved either as leader or sideman. As he says: "The CDs I release on Sunjump are projects that I have been involved in that I find interesting and it is music that I want to hear. Sometimes I've played music that I don't care about and immediately forget, but there is also music that I play with people not only for the pleasure of making it but because I want to be able to listen to it myself."
Down Blue Marlin Road is a particularly strong re-imagination of the standard repertoire of the piano trio. Old staples like "Body and Soul," "Autumn Leaves" and "I'll Remember April" are turned inside-out; not only musically but also in the titles where they're cut down to "Soul," "Autumn" and "April." The same level of condensation takes place in the musical syntax, but there's nothing elliptic about the music. If anything, Esposito's re-workings are expansions of the music, which breaks down the accustomed way of listening to the familiar structures of the standard, changing rhythms and harmony into an expression where tradition is both referenced and transgressed.
Sangeeta Michael Berardi
Tradition is also an important aspect of guitarist Sangeeta Michael Berardis' Earthship (Sunjump 2008), but is not so much the heritage of the standards as the legacy of saxophonist John Coltrane that looms largely over the album. Besides Esposito, Sangeeta is joined by tenor saxophonist James Finn, bassist Hilliard Greene and drummer Peter O'Brien. From the epic opener, "Earthship," with a spellbinding melodic piano figure, to the inventive cover of the Coltrane-patented standard, "My Favorite Things," they create a deeply spiritual music, encompassing quiet mediations and wild explosions. Sangeeta's tone combines elements of aggressiveness and tranquility, occasionally fat and mellow, other times distorted and razor sharp.