Label Spotlight

Sporeprint
By Ken Waxman

Drummer Jörg Fischer is on a mission to demonstrate that great improvisers exist not only in Berlin, New York and London, but in small and medium centres, especially in his native Germany. That’s why the Wiesbaden-based percussionist founded his boutique CD label Sporeprint in late 2013, releasing sessions featuring his associates Kooperative New Jazz Wiesbaden (KNJW), deserving players from nearby such as saxophonist Martin Speicher and bassist Georg Wolf and even a couple of CDs featuring better-known players such as now Berlin-based bass clarinetist Rudi Mahall and Seoul-domiciled, German born multi-instrumentalist Alfred 23 Harth.

Fischer, who had been a professional for 20 years at that point had had varying experiences recording six CDs for other labels since the mid=-1990s, and was unimpressed with the promotion, printing and gap in release time. “Afterwards I asked myself what if I wouldn’t have to make those kinds of compromises. If I could choose what’s on the cover; choose myself who does the design. what cover format I use; have my own schedule without waiting half a year until something happens about the CD I want to hold in my hands? Do I want 500 CDs with 1000 covers, or maybe 300 of each?”

At that point he has just recorded a session with his 10-year-old group, featuring guitarist Cornelius Veit and electric bassist Eugen Prieur, which they were trying to get released. “For the Stromraum CD, we made a list of labels to contact but didn’t receive a reply from probably half of them. In late October 2013, between two concert dates, Cornelius and I had breakfast when he received an email from Schraum, a musician-owned label in Berlin we had contacted. It said our music wouldn’t fit, but Schraum's Axel encouraged us to release it ourselves. Asking a musician colleague to release our stuff felt weird to me anyway. If he can do it, we probably can do it too. Why bother him in the first place? I had thought about it earlier, but that day I decided to start a label while still sitting at that breakfast table”, Fischer remembers.

Veit had experience with a sympathetic printing plant, which wouldn’t for instance demand that the artist pay for 1,000 covers for an edition of 500 CDs, a situation the drummer had faced in the past. Closely involved in few productions with Gligg, another regional German label for improvised music, Fischer had learned something about mastering, cover design, promotion and finances. “I learned, that making a CD isn’t magic,” he assets. “I slowly figured it's no big step to combine those activities for one production.” KNJW bassist Ulrich Phillipp – featured on the Trio Improvisations CD – helps with cover design and layout, and with all CDs fabric pressed in editions of about 300 either the drummer finances everything himself or participating musicians kick in as well in exchange for more copies to sell at gigs or “it’s pretty much a collective process from the start with collective decisions and all involved musicians paying about the same amount of money,” he elaborates.

At the same time Fischer had been trying to place an earlier recorded session featuring himself with Wolf and brass player Mark Charig without success so by adding some finishing touches and mastering that became Free Music on a Summer Evening Sporeprint 1312-01. As for the name: it comes from the drummer’s fascination with mushrooms. “You get a spore print, originally as two words, when you take the head of a mushroom, put it on paper, put a huge bowl over that to create a humid milieu and then the spores of the mushroom fall down on the paper, usually exactly displaying how the lamellae of the given mushroom have grown,” he outlines. “That’s the mushroom’s ‘seed’, which results in a picture roughly shaped like a CD. I like that imagery and its symbolic quality. Using such a mycological thing for a label might be a bit far-fetched, but that's okay.”

He’s also okay with the fact that so far he has been feature on all Sporeprint releases. “Whenever I or we feel a band developed to a point we want to document, we make a CD. That’s musicians taking loving care for what they do, also creating a promotional tool for themselves, further offering a product for people interested. I think there’s nothing negative about that. Sure, it’s me who has the initial ideas what to do next with and for the label, but in my mind the label is more about the bands it features. Look at the other musicians on Sporeprint: The trio CD with Mark Charig is the first one since Pipe Dream in 1977) that features him as main soloist. Cornelius Veit is featured only on a handful of CDs, Eugen is on even fewer. That trio’s last CD was recorded in 2004. The Denhoff-CD is the first one that documents that composer’s work as improviser. Martin Speicher’s discography is quite meagre too and partly very obscure. The Spicy Unit CD with him is the very first to also feature [pianist] Peter Geisselbrecht’s work as improviser – and he’s been active in that field since the ‘80s. I find some of his playing on that CD incredible. The last improv-based CD with [electronics player] Marcel Daemgen [on Confucius Tarif Reduit with Harth and Fischer] is from the late ‘90s. For all bands, except for Veit/Prieur/Fischer, the respective Sporeprint release is the debut-CD.”

Since Fischer is the guiding force behind Sporeprint so far he has featured on each of the label’s discs, and he’s unsure how that will play out in the future. Right now every artist, including him is free to record for other labels. “I'd like to keep the releases per year below a certain number while focusing on current bands I play in,” he states, with emphasis on new material. The single exception so far has been In Memoriam Buschi Niebergall , recorded in 1997 by Fisher, Mahall and bassist Jürgen Wuchner, honoring the pioneering German free jazz bassist. “Jürgen knew Buschi quite well, and already had the whole concept for the memorial worked out at an earlier point, with cover idea and everything, so in early 2016 it all fell into place quickly”, he remembers.

As an advocate of producing in-the-moment artistic documents that are usually sold at performances, the drummer is also less than impressed with the vinyl revival and the concept of downloading. “I don’t intend to produce LP,” he declares. “CDs are handy to carry around to gigs, LPs aren’t. Also they’re much more expensive to manufacture. When it comes to downloads... well, I want to sell the CDs I keep in my closet. But offering downloads in Germany is a bit complicated. If I want to offer downloads on my own website and Bandcamp, I have to pay a license to the [performing rights organization] GEMA. It’s a whole new can of worms I never was motivated to open.” Moving huge number if CDs isn’t a motivating factor given Sporeprint’s limited press runs. Yet at this point he’s down to around 30 copies of two CDs. When they’re completely sold out, he and the other band members will decide whether it’s worthwhile to re-repress or not. It certainly won’t be for financial gain.

“For Sporeprint, and probably for most improv labels, money is like a necessary fuel,” he muses. “We’d like to move a few things but it’s no motivational factor.”

—For The New York City Jazz Record October 2016