February 3, 2017
By Ken Waxman
Although committed to bolstering the careers of musicians who live in the Netherlands, the Amsterdam-based Trytone label, doesn’t dictate what is released on its CDs, as long as “there’s a certain minimum amount of improvisation plus a sense of adventure and originality,” says clarinetist Tobias Klein, the label’s coordinator. Founded in 1998 and with 70 releases so far, the imprint is managed by a seven-person collective so that when a session is submitted for consideration “the whole team listens and decides together whether or not to release it,” he adds.
Ironically while Trytone is as Dutch as windmills, Gouda cheese and brown cafés, the make-up of the collective has changed over the years. Whereas at Trytone’s birth German-born Klein, who has lived in the Netherlands for more than a quarter century, was the only non-Dutch person involved, today some of the other members, all of whom have specific jobs within the collective, hail from Argentina, Portugal and Turkey. Although this reflects the increasingly international mien of Dutch improv, the clarinetist doesn’t think music internationalism contributed to the need to set up the label. Still its continued existence and openness to many substrata of music and musicians – about one-third of its releases are from non-team members – testifies to the gap it filled when first created.
Klein recalls that the imprint’s original impetus was to gain exposure for younger improvisers. In 1998 established Dutch jazz-improvised labels such as BV Haast and ICP had begun limiting their releases to close associates. Other labels dedicated to the Dutch neo-bop scene, “were more commercial enterprises, following the classic example of companies which want to own the masters, do their own graphic design, and keep financial matters as opaque as possible,” Klein recalls. “There was a real lack of a label with an open ear to hybrid or eclectic jazz/improv which might also include influences of rock, pop, ethnic and electronic music, etc.” Munzruh, a quintet featuring Klein, that attempted to link punk, contemporary and improvised music, was the label’s first release. While he admits that “Munzruh’s concept was maybe formulated a bit too ambitiously, right now combining different influences from various genres is very common to the catalogue.”
Klein, who has been featured on 16 of the label’s discs, continues: “Today, the question could be why maintain a label? Many musicians are releasing and marketing their recordings on their own. One good reason is that people who are interested in music and buying CDs still find that labels make it easier to keep an overview of what's out there happening and available. For anyone interested in adventurous jazz and improv from the Netherlands, Trytone is a pretty good place to start. There are also practical reasons. As a musician, you can build a web shop and get your music out to digital distributors pretty easily, but it’s also very time-consuming. Sharing some of the infrastructure definitely makes sense. Any musician can submit a recording to Trytone, although chances are very small for anyone who is not connected in some way to the Netherlands.” Legally constituted as a foundation, over the years Trytone also organizes specific events and concerts.
Recording for Trtytone means musicians “become part of an international creative network with good distribution for a small independent label,” affirms clarinetist Oğuz Büyükberber, who has had four releases on the label. He joined the team four years ago and is responsible for Trytone’s social media and newsletter. Someone who has recorded about 50 CDs, including a dozen of his own for many companies, Büyükberber says non-team members want the Trytone imprint since “Trytone gives artists a better chance for their work to be reviewed in the press compared to an obscure label or much less a completely home-made release. It has extensive catalog and a rather well established good reputation.”
No member of the Trytone team is paid for his efforts, so once the label decides to take on a project, the musicians involved are responsible for all aspects of the production, including personnel, engineering, mastering, production and design. “Trytone doesn’t actively suggest any projects or combinations to anybody,” affirms Klein. Usual pressing is 500 copies which are then distributed by Trytone. “For releases by groups which aren’t led by one of the team members, Trytone withholds 33% of the sales, in order to cover overhead expenses,” he explains. “The rest goes to the artist. For groups which are led by one of the team members, 100% goes to the artist. Musicians pay all and get all. Although Trytone doesn’t declare itself to be a non-profit label, in reality it is one.”
Guitarist Niels Brouwer, whose band Boi Akih, has just released a Trytone CD, says he joined the team this year because “I think the Dutch scene is better off with one or two really visible labels which also can help young musicians make their start and create some continuity. While lots of groups bring out their own CDs they have to do their promotion separately which isn’t very efficient.” His band had already self-released discs and recorded for other labels and he appreciates Trytone’s non-commercial and collectivist goals. “When the members like the music it will be released,” he affirms. “Since nobody in the team earns money with the label, costs are relatively low.” Brouwer, whose team function is maintaining the Trytone website and doing other computer-related work, had already helped other small groups record and mix their sessions, some of which were released on Trytone. Continuing to do this while involved with the label is “like a link in the chain,” he declares.
2005-2015, a five-CD set commemorating the 10th anniversary of Spinifex, a band featuring Klein and bass guitarist Gonçalo Almeida, another team member, has so far been the label’s only multi-disc release. “The initiative was entirely Spinifex’s and it was definitely worth it,” affirms Klein. “It’s selling better than expected and most sets are sold at concerts.” Right now all Trytone releases are on CD. Releasing sessions on vinyl has been discussed but until now no artist has done so. Trytone music is available through services such as CD Baby, iTunes, Amazon, Spotify etc., with about 50% of its revenue coming from digital sales.
The label keeps growing. Three new sessions are scheduled for February 2017 release. Pianist Lisa Cay Miller’s 682/861, which include Trytone team member Büyükberber in the personnel; plus two CDs that feature non-team members: vocalist Kristina Fuchs’ Linden; and Music from an Imaginary Land by Netherlands-based world-music trio Ava, consisting of players from Italy, Turkey and Iran.
—For The New York City Jazz Record February 2017