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WEWANTSOUNDS: A Forgotten Don Cherry and Other Gems


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We concentrate on vinyl, which is somehow a luxury item these days, so we want to make sure that the buyers get the best value for their money. We often opt for gatefold sleeves and inserts with new liner notes. It has become a defining characteristic of the label.
A forgotten gem from the extensive and multi-colored discography of Don Cherry is available again, courtesy of the French label WEWANTSOUNDS [yes, their name is uppercase only!].

Home Boy, Sister Out, produced by Ramuntcho Matta, was originally released in 1985 on Barclay Records. It was distributed in France and Germany only and was never reissued until now. Funky and fourth-world tinged, with strong influences from the new wave scene of those years, this amazing record reflects not only Don Cherry's broad sonic vision, but also the unique mix of sounds one could find in early '80s Paris. The album features, among others, avant-garde poet Brion Gysin, Senegalese drummer Abdoulaye Prosper Niang and the voice of Elli Medeiros. Fascinating and original, Home Boy, Sister Out is a remarkable record and it sparked our curiosity about WEWANTSOUNDS, the intriguing "reissues only" label which released it. So we had a good chat with the WEWANTSOUNDS crew

All About Jazz: Let's start from the beginning: when and how did WEWANTSOUNDS' adventure start? I know the crew has a long experience in the music business, but what drove you to this project?

WEWANTSOUNDS Crew: At some point or another, all of us worked for various labels focusing on artist development, a line of work that takes a lot of effort, time and money. Focusing on reissues was a way to start a label without having to go into artist development and the investments it requires. In addition, when you focus on reissues you are less dependent on artists, managers and touring schedules, which makes things way more manageable. It was also a way to indulge ourselves reissuing music we love.

All About Jazz: The label's statement is clear in stressing that your work is "regardless of the style or era of music." How do you choose the records to reissue and what are the criteria or priorities in your choices?

WWSC: There is no planned strategy. Usually we start from an impulse; then one idea leads to another, and things progress organically as we go along. Our market is DJ oriented, but it can go in many directions. In general, we share a love of black music and groove, so that groove element represents a common thread somehow... Other than that we do pretty much whatever we feel like.

AAJ: You recently reissued Home Boy, Sister Out by Don Cherry. I find this record incredibly interesting in terms of what was going on in those days, a kind of "fourth world" music that has always been a feature of Cherry's, but sometimes neglected. It's an interesting picture of Paris' scene as well... How difficult was it to secure the rights to reissue it? Did you deal directly with produced Ramuntcho Matta?

WWSC: We are huge Don Cherry fans. Don had already experimented a lot with that kind of sound, for instance on Brown Rice, which he had recorded for EMI Italia a few years earlier. Home Boy is a time capsule of the cool Paris sound of the early '80s, when Radio Nova appeared on the Paris horizon programming an incredible range of genres spanning from post-punk to reggae, from dub to funk and jazz.

The peculiarity of that scene was its strong connection with west African and West Indies elements, which resulted from France's relationship with its former colonies. There were great experiments going on at the time with producers like Martin Meissonnier or Hector Zazou and labels like Celluloid or Crammed which were mixing the New York downtown sound with other elements. Home Boy is very much a product of that scene. Ramuntcho Matta had spent a couple of years in New York and was mingling with musicians like Peter Gordon, The Talking Heads, Laurie Anderson and John Cage, so he was tuned to the sound of New York and when he came back to Paris in 1980, he naturally immersed himself in the Radio Nova scene spearheaded by people like Jean Francois Bizot, the son of a very rich family who, thanks to his frequent travels, brought a lot of interesting elements in the French scene and who was the boss of both Radio Nova and of Actuel Magazine. It was very easy to contact Ramuntcho, who produced Home Boy and owns the master. The album was only distributed in France and Germany, so he was very happy that the rest of the world finally gets to experience it, more than 30 years after its initial release.

AAJ: Another important title in your catalogue is the soundtrack of The Friends of Eddie Coyle by Dave Grusin, which was never released as a record. Was it difficult to get hold of the original tapes? Why do you think this kind of funk and cinematic sound is still so strong and current?

WWSC: We are big movie buffs and we came across this soundtrack watching the film, which was released almost exactly 45 years ago. The film was directed by Peter Yates, the director of "Bullit." Around 1967 Yates had shot Robbery which has this great car chase scene shot in the streets of London. Reportedly, when Steve McQueen saw the film he flipped and said "I want this guy to direct my next film" and that's how Bullitt was born. "The Friends of Eddie Coyle," which came out in 1973, is a great movie that, for strange reasons, didn't get the recognition it deserved. It's so cool, very atmospheric in a 'new Hollywood' kind of way. The first thing you notice when you watch it is how cool the music sounds. It's jazz but not jazz. It's very ambient and atmospheric and plays like a long suite. You can't really say it's a funk soundtrack but it's very funky in a way. It's pure Grusin. He had such a real sound. He did a lot of music for the "Columbo" series with Peter Falk, so there are a lot of sound signatures, like the way he used percussions, which come across as very familiar to your ears. It was easy to get hold of the tapes because it was reissued on CD for the American market a few years ago. The US label that reissued it later went out of business and had not released it on vinyl, so we seized the opportunity to do it on vinyl. We asked David Toop, who is a fan of the film and its soundtrack, to write the sleeve notes. Alternative film poster artist Oliver Barrett did the artwork which is beautiful. We were very happy with the final result.

AAJ: Are there other soundtracks you are planning to issue?

WWSC: Yes, but these are not done deals, so we can't say too much!

AAJ: Another interesting soundtrack is Serge Gainsbourg's Le Pacha. How would you frame this music into Gainbourg's protean career?

WWSC: Gainsbourg has composed many soundtracks through the years, so he was familiar with the genre. He would usually get the jobs and then he would enroll his arrangers to do most of the instrumental work, mainly people like Alain Goraguer, Michel Colombier (who famously did the Messe Pour le Temps Present with Pierre Henry) and Jean Claude Vannier. Le Pacha is classic Gainsbourg: many great themes arranged and composed by Colombier, with Gainsbourg singing on one of the themes, "Requiem pour un Con" in this case.

AAJ: Every album has a rich booklet, with original liner notes and, when possible, interviews. How do you work on these aspects?

WWSC: We feel strongly that there should be an introduction to all the records we release. We try to work with journalists who share our aesthetics. The reason behind this choice is that since we concentrate on vinyl, which is somehow a luxury item these days, we want to make sure that the buyers get the best value for their money. We often opt for gatefold sleeves and inserts with new liner notes. It has become a defining characteristic of the label.

AAJ: Hiroshi Sato's Orient has been a sought-after record for years. How did you get into that? Could you work on the original master tape?

WWSC: We love Japanese music and the way it appropriates western sounds and make them its own. We knew Sato and this album in particular. It's owned by Universal, which we contacted through a connection we had at their Paris branch, and they told us the album was available. They had done a vinyl reissue for the Japanese market a few years ago, which meant that the album, luckily, had already been remastered , and this is why it sounds so good. So we didn't have to wait too long to get the elements and it was a straight forward process.

AAJ: The next title will be Jack Wilkins' Windows. The original vinyl is valued more than 100 Euros. Tell us something about this record...

WWSC: We have a great relationship with Mainstream Records and we are big fans of their catalogue. It fits somewhere between CTI and Flying Dutchman; it's not as famous but there are a lot of gems in there. It was a label owned by Bob Shad a legendary producer, who had worked with Charlie Parker in the '40s, set up EmArcy in the '50s and first signed Janis Joplin in the '60s. He produced "Only You" by the The Platters among many other hits and worked with Billie Holiday, Carmen McRae, Cannonball Adderley and many others. Coincidentally he is the grandfather of producer, writer, director, actor and stand-up comedian Judd Apatow.

Bob Shad would give a chance to many young musicians and Jack Wilkins was one of them. He's a great guitarist and Windows, the album he did on Mainstream in 1973, is brilliant. The key track is "Red Clay," a version of the famous Freddie Hubbard classic which was sampled by A Tribe Called Quest in 1993 on "Sucka Nigga" from the album Midnight Marauders. It was actually sampled again in 2013 by Chance the Rapper on "NaNa," which is why it's so in-demand. It will be the first time the LP gets reissued since 1973 and we found unissued session photos which we will add in the package. Interestingly, the drummer on the session is Bill Goodwin who played on Tom Waits' great 1975 album Nighthawks at the Diner.

AAJ: The label started with a number of compilations and anthologies on funk, bossa, disco. Are you planning on working on more anthologies or has this "concept" moved to the playlist/mixcloud section of your website?

WWSC: We probably will, but we'll be careful, and you got a point, to some extent. When it comes to vintage repertoire you still have a market if you can bring an interesting angle. On the other side, "discovery compilations" featuring brand new talents are area that is being taken over by Spotify and other "discovery playlists" so it's becoming increasingly harder to sell these, unless you have a very strong brand.

AAJ: How many copies are printed of each release? What are your main distribution channels?

WWSC: It depends on the artist or the album, we usually start with 800 LPs and we see how it goes. If the buzz is working and the album and/or artist is really in-demand, we can go beyond that and end up with 2 to 3,000 copies. We mainly sell to indie shops and also have a bandcamp platform. Our catalogue is still small so we don't do as many record fairs as we'd like to, but that will change over time.

AAJ: What is your opinion about vinyl's market? Which are the current limits, in terms of scale but not only, of this trend and which are the still unexplored possibilities?

WWSC: The vinyl market gives a bit of fresh air to the industry, and that in itself is great news. It made it cool again to buy albums. There was a period in the mid-aughts when the atmosphere was gloomy and going to a record store was a depressing experience. It is great that people realize again what great experience it is to go to your local record store. The limit is that we don't really know if it's just a momentary phase or not. Also, we are not so much into the digging side of things and that can sometimes limit your sale expectations in a market where rarity is an important factor. Many labels get into the market and tend to release anything they can, but that saturates the market with B products too.

AAJ: Can you reveal anything about the upcoming releases?

WWSC: We plan to release albums by one of the most talented artists from Japan!

AAJ: What are your long-cherished reissue dreams?

WWSC: It's always the next project to be signed. We don't have specific dreams. The reissue business is a game where eight projects out of ten won't happen for whatever reason—either you can't find the master owner or the label doesn't want to license it, or another label got there first, or they won't give you vinyl rights etc. You have to be very patient as a lot of projects take months to get signed, so whenever it happens it feels like a dream comes true. Hiroshi Sato was great because all the ingredients were there: great music, the album is rare and sought after, there is a story around the album and the musician and the album cover is amazing. And the album was available too! Same for The Friends of Eddie Coyle. We were very proud of Home Boy, Sister Out, which has a great story and a fantastic sound. As we go along we get more ideas in and it leads us to investigate more directions. It's very exciting when you can get people to discover music you've uncovered!

The original version of this article has appeared in Italian on Il Giornale della Musica.

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