In Print

Free Jazz and Improvisation on Vinyl 1965-1985
Johannes Rød (Rune Grammofon)

By Ken Waxman

Evan Parker once famously said that “my roots are in my record player” and from its beginnings, the appreciation and dissemination of jazz has been dependent on records. Like the scholars of early jazz who discovered little-known 78s that redefined jazz history, so too do limited pressed LPs define free jazz more than major label offerings. Norwegian scholar Johannes Rød clarifies the situation by itemizing notable discs from 60 so-called free jazz labels from the sound’s mid-60s first flowering to the advent of the CD. While some may quarrel with his fetishism of vinyl and question his exclusion of major imprints – an omission explained in an epilogue – there’s no disputing his scholarship.

With unadorned listings of each album’s artist, title and catalogue number plus information situating the label historically, Rød itemizes the abundance of LPs that documented these emerging sounds. Crucially many were artist, or enthusiast-run and/or short-lived operations with limited distribution, a prelude to today’s DIY recording labels. At the same time, because his aim is to expose as many crucial sessions as possible, he has had to pare down to personal choices selections from what could be oxymoronically be describe as major independent labels. What this focus means however is that beneath-the-radar imprints including the likes of Ak-Ba, whose five releases include important early discs by Charles Tyler, Arthur Doyle and Barry Wallerstein; or Tangent whose complete catalogue is three releases by the Spontaneous Music Ensemble or Amalgam, are listed alongside the many pages given over to such well-known and in many cases, still flourishing imprints like FMP, Hat Hut, ESP-Disk, Incus and others.

Tellingly, the centre pages consisting of full-color reproductions of 64 LP covers plus Mats Gustafsson’s polemic about the virtues of vinyl in the forward may tilt the book towards collectors and nostalgists. But as publisher Rune Kristoffersen points out in a back-of-book interview, the independent vinyl outlets allowed the artists more freedom for creativity and in the process supported jazz experimentation.

—For The New York City Jazz Record July 2015