Newvelle Records' Subscription LP Service

May 2018

Newvelle Records is a Paris-based label that offers jazz recordings on vinyl by subscription. For an annual fee of $400 (plus shipping), the subscriber receives a newly recorded LP every other month and, at the end of the year, a handsome, heavyweight slipcase to store them all in. This year is the third for this service, but you can buy each of the previous annual collections, while still available, for the same price as the subscription.

Each LP is pressed on clear, 180gm vinyl by MPO, in France. The striking cover art for all releases in each season is the work of a single photographer (or, for the second season, a photography collective), and printed on the inner gatefold spread is a poem or short story. Newvelle posts liner notes for each album online. As objects to hold and enjoy, visually and tactilely, Newvelle releases embody one of the aspects of vinyl most enjoyed by collectors. The covers are of heavy cardboard, and the photos are beautifully printed.

Newville

The subscription fees help fund Newvelle’s recording projects, which use a mix of analog and digital technology, with an emphasis on the former (click here for a full explanation). Pianist Elan Mehler, who cofounded the label with Jean-Christophe Morisseau, describes their mission on Newvelle’s website: “we saw in this vinyl resurgence an opportunity for a new model for releasing music. A musically and aesthetically uncompromising model, devoted to high quality, where musicians are paid upfront and keep their rights to the music and where a stable economic model is provided by a membership base, allowing the art to be paramount.”

Pianist Frank Kimbrough’s Meantime was the first release of Newvelle’s first season. Kimbrough has been recording steadily since 1986, and on Meantime he’s joined by a number of jazz musicians who, like him, are based in New York City. He opens the LP with “Alabama Song,” the Kurt Weill tune that Doors fans will know from The Doors. Kimbrough begins in a slow, considered way that lets the chords ring out, giving Andrew Zimmerman’s tenor saxophone space to state the melody. Kimbrough’s evocative solo is lovely and emotionally dark; in Zimmerman’s feature, he hews close to the tune’s outlines.

Frank Kimbrough

“Laughing at Gravity” is upbeat and gospel tinged. Kimbrough’s rollicking solo is percussive and driving, and Zimmerman injects a hint of rhythm and blues in his playing. The noirish “Twenty Bars” emphasizes how well bassist Chris van Voorst van Beest and drummer R.J. Miller give fullness and texture to the music throughout the LP without calling attention to themselves. Riley Mulherkar joins the group on trumpet for Andrew Hill’s “Laverne,” a soulful piece that demonstrates this group’s versatility.

Meantime remains cohesive across a wide range of jazz styles. “Elegy for P.M.” is impressionistic, while “Katonah” is hard-swinging post-bop. The title track has a free-jazz undercurrent but remains focused and accessible. Kimbrough’s “Four by Four” pays homage to Thelonious Monk while being a strong composition on its own, and Mulherkar particularly shines in Harold Arlen’s lovely ballad “Last Night When We Were Young” -- but all the musicians acquit themselves very well here, and throughout this intellectually gratifying and emotionally involving set.

“Most musicologists agree that the piano is a percussive instrument as well as a melodic and harmonic instrument,” Mehler writes in his notes for Jack DeJohnette’s Return, a collection of solo piano pieces. Though best known as a drummer, as a child DeJohnette took piano lessons, and for years he has composed on piano and played it on his recordings. Return is his first all-solo-piano recording, and the opening track, “Ode to Satie,” pays tribute to the great French composer while serving as entrée to these atmospheric, beautifully constructed performances.

Jack DeJohnette

DeJohnette wrote “Ebony” for his third album with a group he led, Special Edition. In contrast to the version on 1983’s Inflation Blues, this solo performance slows the piece down and focuses on its melodic components before bringing it to a more percussive and dissonant close. When DeJohnette recorded “Silver Hollow” with New Directions, another group he led, his solo piano provided a lengthy opening; here he plays it with a gentle touch that lets each note unfurl and build drama.

Many of DeJohnette’s compositions on Return first appeared elsewhere, but “Ode to Satie” and “Dervish Trance” are new. The latter is a mesmerizing, exotic piece that shifts in tone and harmony to create a vivid impression of “the whirling meditative dance of the Sufi Dervishes,” as DeJohnette describes it in the liner notes. “Indigo Landscapes” is reminiscent of Keith Jarrett’s major-scale improvisations, while “Song for World Forgiveness” returns to the contemplative and harmonic inspiration of Satie.

Return is both accessible and challenging. DeJohnette often takes the music in unexpected directions that change in harmonic and emotional impact. He plays the final track, “Ponta de Areia,” by Brazilian composer Milton Nascimento, as a lullaby, to give a calm, satisfying resolution to this varied and moving collection of pieces. Return left me feeling that he could have easily have been as significant a musician on piano as he’s been on drums.

The volume swells from Ben Monder’s guitar give tenor saxophonist Noah Preminger a dreamy backdrop for Billy Strayhorn’s “My Little Brown Book,” the first track of Preminger’s Some Other Time. Preminger has led eight sessions in the last ten years, and appeared as a sideman on others. On this album his playing often begins with a simple execution of the melody that then deepens in tone and feeling as he develops it. Monder aids him in providing a strong harmonic background, bassist John Patitucci and drummer Billy Hart creating a solid rhythmic foundation.

Noah Preminger

Preminger states the melody with deliberate firmness in his own “Semenzato,” but soon pulls the tune in different directions in a flurry of notes that takes the song apart and reassembles its themes. Monder sits out “A Ghost of a Chance,” and the focus on Preminger elicits a stark but powerful performance. He reimagines the old standard, slurring notes and giving the tune an edginess and fire that breathe into it new life.

Monder’s chords and arpeggios set the stage for a cover of the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ “Porcelain.” Preminger’s tone can go from expansive and beautiful to blunt and gritty without sacrificing clarity or straightforwardness. His reading of “Try a Little Tenderness” is soulful, with powerful bursts of speed that add tension while staying close to the song’s blues essence. Monder’s muted tone makes it easy to miss the importance of his contributions to the success of these performances, but his solo in “Tenderness” is a high point of this album.

Patitucci offers Preminger melodic counterpoint that inspires and goads the saxophonist. Hart, at 77 the senior member of the group, is a constant surprise, giving the music an urgent pulse while adding texture and shading. Preminger is only 31, and his voice sounds genuinely new and innovative. This was not my first encounter with his music, but I want to hear more.

Don Friedman was Elan Mehler’s piano teacher in New York, and Mehler was eager to have him record with Newvelle. Friedman had played with Dexter Gordon, Chet Baker, and Ornette Coleman, among others, and was the pianist on two Booker Little sessions from 1961, Out Front and Booker Little and Friend. The tunes on his recording for Newvelle, Strength and Sanity, are all by Little, and Friedman plays them with swinging aplomb. Bassist Phil Palombi and drummer Shinnosuke Takahashi, Friedman’s regular accompanists at the time, are sympathetic and intuitive in their support.

Don Friedman

The title track is noteworthy -- Friedman plays it solo, and his technique is dazzling. The notes flow easily, with a sense that Friedman is locked in to the song and giving it full voice. “Moods in Free Time” is edgy but loose, and “Looking Ahead” shows how imaginative Little’s writing could be, creating music that was rhythmically and melodically challenging but still accessible. Friedman’s touch shows how much Monk influenced Little, but the song stands on its own.

Friedman gives solo space to the other players throughout the session, and Polombi takes off in “Calling Softly,” building on Little’s ideas and creating his own moment. Takahashi is a fluid and swinging drummer whose accents help drive the other players to higher heights. Friedman is inspired and delightful throughout, his playing full of light, and open to inspiration. He passed away in 2016 at the age of 81, less than a year after recording Strength and Sanity, but in these sessions he was vital and fully engaged, conveying both a sense of loss at Booker Little’s early departure (1938-1961), and exhilaration at the inspiration his music still provides.

Quiet Revolution is bassist Ben Allison’s tribute to the late jazz guitarist Jim Hall, whose fluid and understated style was widely admired and respected. Five of the ten tunes are Hall’s, and most of the rest are ones he played. Allison is joined by Ted Nash on saxes and clarinet and Steve Cardenas on nylon and steel-string guitar, a trio format that mirrors Jimmy Giuffre’s 1957 lineup, which included Hall when it recorded its eponymous debut for Atlantic Records.

Ben Allison

Allison provides the other players with melodic support, and gives the tracks a rhythmic center. In “All Across the City” he plays the melody before giving way to Nash, and on a number of tracks he plays a harmony or parallel line against the main theme. Cardenas plays acoustic guitar throughout, his solo style clearly influenced by Hall’s elegant virtuosity. The trio’s version of “The Train and the River,” a Jimmy Giuffre tune that Hall played in in its first recording, is a good example of how well these players respond to each other to create spellbinding music.

The final record in the 2016 subscription series was Leo Genovese’s Argentinosaurus. The Argentine pianist has toured and recorded with Esperanza Spalding, who plays double bass and sings on this session. Jack DeJohnette plays drums and melodica, and on one track adds a vocal. Spalding’s singing of the bossa-nova-flavored “Chacarera y Mas” is charming and sets a calm tone, but Genovese’s improvisation twists and turns, Spalding and DeJohnette staying with him and letting the tension rise and fall.

Leo Genovese

“Cosmic Church” is a gospel-based tune that Genovese plays with energy and spirit, aided by DeJohnette’s powerful drumming and Spalding’s fluid bass work. One of the album’s strongest tracks is “Diableros,” Genovese’s often aggressive and percussive playing balanced with passages of swinging beauty. The title track is a free-jazz exercise showcasing the pianist’s adventurous side, but also demonstrating how easily Spalding and DeJohnette respond to his sometimes demanding compositions.

This was my first known encounter with LPs pressed by MPO; all six discs in this set were flat and very quiet. The records were cut from high-resolution (24-bit/88.2kHz) digital mixes, but the sound has the warmth of analog, and the level of detail is frequently astonishing. The low register of DeJohnette’s piano is remarkably immediate, and the sound on every LP put me in the studio with the players.

While $400 is a lot for six LPs, the packaging, sound, and pressing quality of the set I received were all exceptionally high. Newvelle subscribers are buying something rare, something they had a hand in making possible. The label’s 2017 series comprised recordings by Jon Cowherd, Aruán Ortiz, John Patitucci, Rufus Reid, Chris Tordini, and Keven Hays and Lionel Loueke; the 2018 series began with Steve Cardenas and is now in full swing.

Frank Kimbrough: Meantime
Newvelle NV001LP
Format: LP
Musical Performance: ****
Sound Quality: ****½
Overall Enjoyment: ****½

Jack DeJohnette: Return
Newvelle NV002LP
Format: LP
Musical Performance: ****
Sound Quality: ****½
Overall Enjoyment: ****½

Noah Preminger: Some Other Time
Newvelle NV003LP
Format: LP
Musical Performance: ****½
Sound Quality: ****½
Overall Enjoyment: ****½

Don Friedman: Strength and Sanity
Newvelle NV004LP
Format: LP
Musical Performance: *****
Sound Quality: ****½
Overall Enjoyment: ****½

Ben Allison: Quiet Revolution
Newvelle NV005LP
Format: LP
Musical Performance: ****½
Sound Quality: ****½
Overall Enjoyment: ****½

Leo Genovese: Argentinosaurus
Newvelle NV006LP
Format: LP
Musical Performance: ****
Sound Quality: ****½
Overall Enjoyment: ****½

. . . Joseph Taylor
josepht@soundstagenetwork.com

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