I can remember, in 1987, getting my hands on the first commercially released album I was ever on - 'In Two', an LP, (remember them?), of duo recordings with Simon Nabatov. It was such a thrill to see it and have it as a physical entity. To have an LP - something which for me before this was a medium for listening to other people - in my hands with me on it! An amazing thrill.... Since then, I've been on many recordings, but it's still wonderful to take possession of a new one, and especially when it's your own release.
These days many musicians question the usefulness of releasing a physical CD - CD sales are in the basement, everyone buys Mp3s or streams from rapacious sites like Spotify, so why go to the trouble and expense of releasing a CD? I think of it as being akin to an artist having an exhibition. Artists create new work over a period of time and every now and then have an exhibition to show the work as a whole. In organising the exhibition a lot of thought is given to the framing of the individual works, and in what order the paintings are hung, so that the visitor is taken on a journey as they walk around the gallery and look at the paintings in order. In a similar way I think serious, professional, creative musicians should treat CDs like an exhibition. Showing your work as a whole and in the order that you want the listener to experience the music in, with some art work to frame the music, and to have a physical, tangible entity that represents your work, is important for the serious musician, and despite the inevitable lack of financial return, I think it's an investment in yourself as an artist.
Which brings me to 'Hands', my new CD with Dave Binney, Chris Guilfoyle, and Tom Rainey. We recorded it in New York last year at the renowned Systems Two studios. After a typically short but efficient NY rehearsal at Michiko Studios, we recorded the album in two 4-hour sessions. Systems Two is a pleasure to work in - fast, efficient and with a great sound. I'd recorded there in mid-90s with Steve Coleman, and recording 'Hands' there reconfirmed all my positive memories of that session. The music on this recording is challenging for the players, but at this level of musicianship even the most daunting of challenges is surmounted with ease and we were able to get straight to the music.
I've been in interested in extended form in jazz composition for more than 20 years now, and three of the pieces - 'In Fairness', 'Close Call', and 'Hands' - all come under this heading. 'Hands' in particular has an interesting history - originally a bass figure I improvised in a studio recording, I later transcribed it and expanded it into the first movement of my 'Concerto for Electric Guitar and Orchestra' in 2012. Here's I've gone in the opposite direction and re-transcribed the first movement of this big piece for the the more intimate setting of the quartet. It's been interesting for me to see how much can change and evolve as you keep adapting the same piece for different formats and I think 'Hands' comes off as a very unusual piece in this context.
The other pieces are simpler - 'Sneaky' and 'Telemachus' are groove pieces, 'Krystal' a lyrical ballad, and 'Nod' a burning blues to finish it off. We really had fun in the studio and the standard of musicianship was extraordinary. I know Tom for over twenty years and love playing with him - he's an incredibly creative drummer who always places his brilliant technique at the service of the music. The same can be said for Dave Binney, with whom I've also worked before, and it's no accident that he's at the forefront of the contemporary New York jazz scene. My son Chris was making his recording debut here, and though he was in heavy company, he was completely undaunted and played the music, both written and improvised, with a skill and maturity well beyond his years. As I knew he would. I encouraged him by telling him that if he made any mistakes he was out of the family!
Listening to the album now, a year after the recording, I'm very happy with it. Though the pieces were composed at different times, and sometimes for different settings, I chose them carefully with a view to creating a coherent sound and concept that would make the album have both a personal and unitary identity, and I feel it does that. I also feel it represents something I've been working on for years - the combination of composition and improvisation as being equal parts in a creative whole.
(Tom in action)
The recording is available directly from me, and digitally in the usual places - CD Baby should be your first port of call, but it will also be available on iTunes, Amazon and Google - though not Spotify - I'd rather give it away than have anything to do with them!
And I've also decided to self-release this album, for all sorts of reasons. The record companies, the few that are left, have become impossible to deal with. The demands they make on you are ridiculous - you have to record, edit, mix and master at your own expense, then agree to buy a certain amount of CDs off them before they'll even consider releasing the recording. A more recent scam is looking for half the publishing rights to your original compositions! It's only a matter of time till they'll be wanting one of your kidneys, or a first-born child....... And in the end, what do you get after jumping through all those hoops? A couple of reviews and some distribution. These days, with CD sales being what they are, it's just not worth the hassle of dealing with the record companies, you're better off doing it yourself, keeping control of your music, and at least not feeling like a supplicant to some miserable independent jazz record label.
I've called my record company Portmanteau Records, and I think I'll release other things under this label - stuff I've never issued, sometimes free giveaways etc. So, watch this space!
Here's a taster - excerpts from various tracks. Hope you enjoy the music and if you're one of those people who, like me, likes having something tangible alongside the music itself, then I hope this recording will become part of your collection.