A Small Label Triumvirate: Evidence, Accurate and Knitting Factory Records
By Brian L. Knight
In an era where the big media conglomerates control the music industry, it is refreshing to see smaller labels create themselves a niche in the extremely aggressive and competitive market. The smaller labels do what the bigger ones cannot accomplish. They offer recording deals to lesser-known acts and subsequently, identify some of the best music around. Likewise, the major labels often overlook traditional music forms such as jazz, folk and blues. If there isnt a potential for a top-40 video or hit, tarditional music is often ignored. What the major labels forget is that this type music is often the best music available to our ears. The East Coast has three labels that specialize in jazz and blues and carry exciting new music. They are Cambridges Accurate Records, Philadelphias Evidence Records and New York Citys Knitting Factory Records.
Accurate Records (http://www.tiac.net/users/accurate/)
PO Box 390115, Cambridge MA 02139
Accurate Records first began in 1986 when saxophonist Russ Gershon needed a label to release the first album for his group, the Either/Orchestra. Since then, the label has grown to feature over 30 artists. The bulk of the label consists of New England jazz artists but the influence has spread to other regions and genres. The company is now distributed by Massachusettss Rounder Records, which has given the labels contributing artists a wider fan base. The label was responsible for releasing Medeski, Martin & Woods first album, Notes From the Underground, the Jazz Mandolin Projects first album as well as the So-Called Jazz Sextets album which features members from Vermonts Viperhouse.
Either/Orchestra/Across the Ominverse
The big band lives on! Accurate Records founder, Russ Gershon, is the main man behind this project that has been playing off and on for the last 10 years. Documenting the history of the Boston-based group, Gershon released a 2 CD compilation. The tunes from the CD come from many different stages of the band. In total, there have been 24 musicians who have come in and out of the Either/Orchestra. The constant in all of the lineups has been trumpeter Tom Halter, trombonist Russell Jewell, and Russ Gershon. The CD is a great combination of both old and new. There are great Either/Orchestra originals such as Gershons Theme from "E-Men" and "Ballad for Sun Ra" and trombonist Curt Hasselbrings "DogHouse Interior" and "The Door". The Either/Orchestra also keeps the tradition alive by playing tunes by Johnny Hodges and Duke Ellington and they tinker with the contemporary when the play versions of Burt Bacharachs "The Look of Love" and the Beatles "Shes So Heavy". Some of the highlights of the album come with Billy Skinners "No Negative Energy" which is a Latin mamba featuring John Medeski on piano and Russell Jewells "Night Living Blues" which displays the fine guitar work of John Dirac. In these two songs, the diversity of Either/Orchestra is also shown as the band can move from the upbeat Latin sounds to the slow moving blues. It is the combination of Beatles/Ellington; originals/covers and upbeat/slow that lends to the bands name. Either this or that, they will play it.
Alloy Orchestra Silents
The Either/Orchestra and the Alloy Orchestra demonstrate the size if the band does not dictate the use of the word "orchestra". As the Either orchestra would have over ten people within its fold, the Alloy Orchestra only contains three members Terry Donahue (percussion, accordion), Caleb Sampson (synthesizers) and Ken Winokur (percussion). This Cambridge, Massachusetts based trio specializes in making contemporary scores to older silent movies. Not only is the idea fresh and original so is the approach: the Alloy Orchestra uses a wide variety of junk materials to help create their sound. Silents contains the scores from the movies The Unknown (1927), Nosferatu (1922), Metropolis (1926) and Lost World (1925). The Alloy Orchestra takes this unique blend of calm and thundering music on the road and accompanies the movies with a live performance at various film festivals. Without the movie, the CD captivates the listener. If it accompanies a movie, one can only imagine the impact of the music on the previously silent entity.
Salim Washington and RBA/Love in Exile
Accurate Records catalog does not simply consist of Russ Gershons own work and movie soundtracks. It has a very large collection of jazz that everybody should hear. One the best independent released jazz CDs that I have heard in recent months is saxophonist Salim Washington and RBAs Love In Exile. RBA stands for Roxbury Blues Aesthetic. Roxbury (Massachusetts) is where the band members hail from and a jazzy-blues is what the band plays. Salim Washington is an obvious influence of both John Coltrane and Pharoah Sanders as his music contains the same spirituality. The influence is carried even further as an alumnus of Pharoah Sanders 1970s band, pianist Joe Bonner, sits in on the album. Bonner possesses the same musical traits and style that McCoy Tyner has with Coltrane and Lonnie Smith had with Sanders. Bonner contributes three tunes to the album while Washington penned four. The remaining tunes were written by RBA members Kurtis Rivers and Bobby Ward. Amidst all of these original compositions, incredible influences and guest musicians, it is the violin work Melanie Dyer that really sticks out on the album and adds a haunting texture to the music.
Bill Anschell/ A Different Note All Together
Even though Accurate Records tends to maintain a focus on the musicians of the northeast, some "out-of-towners" do make it into the catalog. One such example is pianist Bill Anschell. For many years, Anschell has dominated the Atlanta jazz scene with his contemporary jazz. In addition to his performances, Anschell hosts "JazzSouth" which is a syndicated radio program that focuses on the grooves that occur below the Mason-Dixon line. In addition to Anschell, the lineup for A Different Note All Together features the amazing guitar work of Scott Sawyer who introduces a rock element to the band; the cool saxophone blowing of Rick Bell and the intense rhythms of bassist Neal Starkey and drummer Woody Williams. A Different Note All Together is a very upbeat jazz album that possesses elements of fusion, funk and straightforward jazz.
1100 E. Hector Street, Suite 392 Conshocken, PA 19428
In a manner similar to Accurate Records, Philadelphias Evidence Records seems to have a focus on jazz and blues. Evidence Records first made an impact on the music industry with its re-releases of various Sun Ra albums. Due to the extreme rare nature of Sun Ras albums, Evidences efforts brought joy to music fans everywhere. Since then, Evidence has moved on to new artists and over the last year, the label has released quality music from todays finest jazz and blues stars.
James Williams & ICU/Weve Got What You Need
This is the second release by pianist James Williams and ICU. The first album consisted of mainly originals. This one has a more nostalgic flare to it. Instead of blundering through an explanation, I will paraphrase the liner notes written by Williams: "In order to achieve a few magical moments for our listeners as well as ourselves; We strive to: Swing like Jimmy Lunceford or Count Basie Orchestra; Innovate a la Thelonious Monk or John Coltrane; Develop intricate but beautiful melodies like Sonny Rollins or Clifford Brown; Interpret a ballad like Milt Jackson, Shirley Horn or Miles Davis; Display the elegance, charisma and drama of Ahmad Jamal, or Hank Jones; Sing like Billie, Sassy and Ella, with diction, clarity of Carmen McRae and Tony Bennett; Add touch of soul and gospel like Aretha Franklin, Marvin Gaye and Ray Charles." After listening to the album, all of these statements become all so clear. It has a little everything a little of everything done with expertise and precision.
Carl Weathersby/ Restless Feeling
Blues guitarist Carl Weathersby was born in Jackson, Mississippi and was raised in Chicago, Illinois. With this type of geographic upbringing, Weathersbys interest in the blues should arrive as no surprise. As a youth, Weathersby was heard by Albert King and received the masters full blessing. Before becoming a full time musician, Weathersby served in the Vietnam War, worked in a mill, and worked as both a police officer and prison guard. More fodder for singing the blues. After 15 years playing with blues outfit Branchs Son of Blues, Weathersby headed down the road of solo work. In 1997, Weathersby received the W.C. Handy Blues Award for New Blues Artist. Restless Feeling is Weathersbys third album and it contains scorching guitar throughout. The album also possesses a little bit of the New Orleans funk as Weathersbys band features pianist David Torkanowsky from the Astral Project. In addition, there is a rendition of New Orleans legend Allen Toussaints We All Wanna Boogie.
Chico Banks/Candy Lickin Man
During the 1998 Chicago Blues Festival Carl Weathersby and Chico Banks shared the stage throughout the event, both strutting their stuff and wailing on their guitars. While Carl Weathersby signifies a thoroughbred blues player, Chico Banks represents the mutt. Banks does not stop with the blues for he incorporates a little jazz, funk, soul and R&B into his style. In a fashion similar to the late Luther Allison, Chico Banks does not prefer to remain mired in the blues for there is so much more for music to offer. Candy Lickin Man is Chico Banks first album is funky from beginning to end. In the tradition of Jimi Hendrix, Banks uses his guitars wah-wah pedal with abandoned spirit and the album contains a rocking version of Albert King- John Mayalls Down The Road I Go.
Ted Hawkins/The Final Tour
Ted Hawkins grew up in Mississippi as an unwanted son of a prostitute. He eventually moved to Venice Beach, California where he sang the blues on the streets for coins. Playing along the skateboarders, muscleman and tourists, Hawkins and his blues guitar were a mainstay on the beach. For a brief period of time, Hawkins music hit the mainstream, especially in Europe, which led him to moving to England for a few years. Upon the discovery that he had no working papers, Hawkins returned to California and returned to playing the blues in small clubs or back on the streets. For Hawkins to truly enjoy himself, all he needed was his guitar, a milk crate to sit on and an inch long finger nail for strumming and picking. Throughout this live album, Hawkins energy is evident through his soulful vocals and aggressive guitar strumming. This 1994 recording captures this exact happiness and marks his final recorded live performance as he was to die of Diabetes within two months of this recording.
Knitting Factory Records (http://www.knittingfactory.com/)
74 Leonard Street New York, NY 10013
The Knitting Factory first began in 1987 as a performance place for improvisational music. Over the last ten years, the organization has grown into a world-renowned nightclub, touring organization, festival organizer and label. All along the way, the Knitting Factory has maintained its commitment to experimental and improvisational music. The music that is found on the Knitting Factory will not have MTV Videos and probably will not receive vast amounts of radio airplay. What is found on the Knitting Factory label is some of the best musicians out there today.
Oren Bloedow/The Luckiest Boy In The World
One of the most famous outfits to pass through the Knitting Factorys doors is Medeski, Martin & Wood. This trio shows its dedication to the Knitting Factory, its artists and diverse music by serving as the backup band for Oren Bloedow. Bloedow, a member of the Lounge Lizards and a former collaborator with Jewel, provides amazing lyrics and soulful vocals throughout the album. The combination of Bloedows soul and Medeski, Martin & Woods funky-jazz creates a truly unique album.
Wayne Horvitz and Zony Mash/ Brand Spankin New
This is Zony Mashs second album and may be the best in the Knitting Factory catalog. In a tradition similar to Medeski, Martin Wood, Zony Mash use their love of jazz improvisation to take a song from peaceful, calm beginnings and transform them into a jamming flurry. Wayne Horvitz is the Hammond B-3, Synthesizer genius behind the danceable grooves of Zony Mash. When he is not inciting the youth to dance, Horvitz is involved in numerous other bands and projects. Horvitz is an active composer whose work has been featured on TV shows, movies, live plays and many other peoples albums. He also is involved in other jazz bands such as the Four Plus One Ensemble, President, Pigpen and the Horvitz, Morris Previte Trio. The upbeat looseness of Zony Mash may be some of his easier endeavors yet it is probably his most accessible.
One of Wayne Horvitz side projects was the band Pigpen. It was in this outfit that he teamed up with fellow Seattle-ite, saxophonist Briggan Krauss. After the break-up of Pigpen, Krauss and Horvitz recruited drummer Kenny Wollensen to record this album which was recorded at the Knitting Factory over a two-day period. The sessions were characterized by unrehearsed improvisation. The trio did not write any songs and they simply figured things out as the music progressed. In most cases, these type of recording sessions are typified by lengthy jams ( a la Miles Davis Bitches Brew). The interesting aspect of 300 is that the songs are short averaging 3-5 minutes in length. The end of result is quick, fast paced examples of frenzied improvisation.
Harriet Tubman/ I Am A Man
Harriet Tubman consists of guitarist Brandon Ross, bassist Melvin Gibbs and drummer J.T. Lewis. These three come from bands as diverse as the hard punk of Henry Rollins the jazz of Howard Johnson and the avant-garde of Archie Shepp. The three musicians combine together to create a truly unique sound. The piercing and exploring guitar of Ross offsets Gibbs and Lewis pulsating beats. The music covers a lot of ground as it can make you want to dance at one moment, bang your head at another or just sit back and listen in amazement.
Vernon Reid, Elliot Sharp, David Torn/ GTR Oblique
If massive guitar experimentation is your calling, than this album is the answer. Vernon Ried is best known for his guitar with both Defunkt and Living Color while David Torn has played and composed with great progressive musicians such as Tony Levin, Bill Bruford, Terry Bozzio and Patrick O Hearn (These guys are either veterans of King Crimson, Yes or Frank Zappa; so you know where Torn is coming from). Meanwhile, Elliot Sharp has served as the lord of the New York guitar underworld. The album consists of many musical styles such as the techno-like The Sentinel, the free Middle East flavor of Achrono Mites and the hard rock "noise" of Slightly East. GTR Oblique is not about endless guitar solos but rather the musicians using their instruments to achieve different levels of sounds and textures.