Label Spotlight

Rudi Records
By Ken Waxman

Realization of one dream coupled with the lessening of funding for others convinced Massimo Iudicone that it was time to create his own label in 2010. Since that time Rudi Records has released 32 productions by noteworthy musicians from its base in Terracing, about 75 kilometres southeast of Rome. Iudicone, who also produces music festivals, found the tight-money situation making it difficult to organize concerts. “So I decided to start a record company to host and document the events that I would have liked in my festivals,” he recalls. At the same time Iudicone, who since the ‘90s, had been working with The Italian Instabile Orchestra (IIO), was organizing projects for friends in the IIO. “We often talked about creating a record linked to the Orchestra, but we were never able to manage it,” he explains. Instead that dream became Rudi.

The label’s first jazz release was Wind & Slap featuring IIO members trombonists Giancarlo Schiaffini and Sebi Tramontana, with subsequent sessions featuring such Orchestra stalwarts as tenor saxophonist Daniele Cavallanti, drummer Tiziano Tononi and violinist Emanuele Parrini. Other well-respected Italian improvisers have recorded for the label as well as a scattering of outsiders including Austrian vocalist Katja Cruz and American saxophonist Sabir Mateen. Most Rudi CDs highlight small groups, but some feature larger ensembles. “I absolutely want to document and make a space for special projects and for musicians who often suffer from lack of popularity but are excellent artists,” states Iudicone. “I believe improvisation in music is one of the highest expressions of contemporary art; it’s to live following the beat of our time.”

This beat goes on in different fashions. “The choice of the projects is random,” Iudicone elaborates “Sometimes musicians propose a project, other times I suggest musicians get together, and sometimes I know of a concert in advance and propose to record it. I prefer live recordings because improvised music takes on different breath and color there.”

Explains Milan-based Cavallanti, who has helmed three Rudi sessions: “Rudi Records seems to offer more visibility and promotion for every new recording coming out. During the past 10 to15 years I’ve become more interested in working out my music with large ensembles, so when I turned 60 the time had come to gather a 10-piece sort of ‘dream band’ for a two- night gig at the AH UM Jazz Festival in Milano. We recorded live and Massimo's Rudi Records was the natural choice to publish this project. Sounds of Hope with the Milano Contemporary Art Ensemble is a natural step on, and this time my idea was to present an ensemble that would feature a particular avant-garde bunch of musicians of the city of Milano. The main difference in dealing with Rudi Records compared to other labels is that Massimo is a friend. I just pick up the phone up, tell him: ‘Hey Max, I’ve got a new project which I want to publish with Rudi Records’, send him the master, and then we discuss who is going to pay for what.”

Depending on the project, mastering, pressing, design and other expenses are often split between Iudicone and the musicians involved, with considerations such as the intricacies of international promotion taken into account. Although Iudicone is the label’s only employee, graphic designer Ale Sordi came up with the label’s distinctively linked backwards and forward facing double-R. Rudi was a nickname for Iudicone in his younger days. “But I was also attracted by the double-R sound as well as the intriguing graphic potential of the double R,” Iudicone admits.

Two Rudi discs are on different formats. Suoni dal Carcere by vocalist Maria Pia De Vito and bassist Silvia Bolognesi is a DVD; while Cruz’s Hexaphone featuring Oliver Lake is a CD/DVD set. “Suoni dal carcere (Sounds from a Prison) documents an extraordinary concert on the Island of Ventotene where many Italian intellectuals were confined during the fascist era. The place is full of history and the concert, thanks to excellent artistic quality of the performers was really nice, so I had document it as it took place on the grounds of an 18th century Bourbon prison. The visual part of Hexaphone is very important to the composition, so we decided with Katja to add the DVD.”

He has no plans for future DVDs. As for LPs, “in Italy there’s not a high request for it, states Iudicone. “Vinyl is very charming and it’s making a comeback, but it’s almost unmanageable, not because of the cost of production but the cost of packaging and shipping. It would be very expensive for the customer.” As for downloads, most are available via streaming services. Plans were to make all albums available digitally, but “that market hasn’t yet exploded as regards the improvised music,” he notes. “I still prefer the physical copy, with its rigid jewel-box, which is well exposed on store shelves.”

Another option not well exposed on Rudi is non-Italian improvisers. But not for any particular reason, notes Iudicone. For instance Canarie by the Scandinavian Honest John quintet is on Rudi. “[The band’s] Klaus Ellerhusen Holm contacted me to propose his project, I had no hesitation about publishing it and I still find it wonderful. For me good music is good music, from USA, from Europe or from everywhere. However, Rudi is also a local trademark, a label to accommodate the Italian improvised music projects in particular.”

To this end he’s particularly proud of two recent productions. The just released Live in Sant’ Anna Arrresi 2013 features the late American poet Amiri Baraka with the seven-piece Dinamitri Jazz Folklore ensemble led by alto saxophonist Dimitri Grechi Espinoza. “I was very enthusiastic about the idea of producing this project which took almost three years to be brought to light,” notes Livorno-based Espinoza, who has released three other Rudi CDs. “In the meantime Baraka died so Dimitri and I were motivated even more to complete the job.” He adds: “What I like most about Rudi is how Massimo is very careful about the musical content of the label, doesn’t interfere in musical choices and tries to simplify all the business dealings. I knew of Massimo because my dear friend Emanuele Parrini, who plays violin in the IIO, told me about the way Massimo handles the label. I called him and after we spoke about different aspects. I decided to send him the master of a recording session I had just made with Tito Mangialaio Rantzer on bass. He liked it and published it very quickly as When We Forgot the Melody.” As for the differences between the duos and the Baraka CD Espinoza explains: “These recordings show different interests that I’m cultivating and Rudi Records seems to be very interested in following my creative process.”

The next Rudi production, entitled Tea Time, is a first-time meeting between three major Italian improvisers who have never recorded together before: reedist Daniele D'Agaro, flutist Massimo De Mattia and bassist Giovanni Maier. “So many Italian musicians don’t have space to perform and be known,” notes Iudicone. “That’s why in a large part this catalogue is meant to represent an Italian pathway within the larger world of improvised music. But again, I'm absolutely open to the world.”

—For The New York City Jazz Record May 2016