Label spotlight

By Ken Waxman

Creating more exposure and new opportunities for the music of the members of Muzzix collective was the idea behind establishing Circum-Disc in 2004. Based in Lille, France, the label now not only also puts out some discs by non-Muzzix members, but has also established two additional imprints, HeliX and microcidi. “The idea at the beginning was the same as the idea of creating a collective: being independent in our choice, and master all the aspect of our artistic projects,” explains drummer Peter Orins, one of Muzzik’s artistic directors and Circum-Disc label coordinator. “In the beginning Circum-Disc was only devoted to Circum project, or the ‘contemporary jazz’ side of Muzzix. HeliX was launched in 2007 with two releases of La Pieuvre, which was not a Circum band, but from another collective, Le Crime, which was dedicated to improvised and experimental music. So HeliX is more about free-music and experimental music. In 2010 Circum and Le Crime merged as Muzzix. As for microcidi, the idea was to release live concerts and projects coming from outside the collective.”

By the end of 2016 the three Circum-Disc labels combined had released 42 productions featuring about 100 different musicians. “But of course we have many big orchestras,” jokes Orins. “There are more Muzzix members featured, because that’s the initial goal of the label. But that’s not a condition.” Founded in 2000, Muzzix not only releases records but promotes awareness of advanced and improvised music through concerts and workshops aimed at school, professional and amateur audiences. Muzzix has three artistic directors, Orins, Yanik Miossec and Christian Pruvost, plus four other musicians who are elected annually from the collective. The seven are responsible for all artistic decision, which includes deciding who records for the label, which is set up as a financially independent organization. When it come to day-to-day label activity though, pre-production to release is taken care of by Orins, as coordinator, and the musicians featured on the sessions, which have ranged from solo discs to big band projects. “Nobody works fulltime for Circum-Disc and nobody is employed by it,” Orins adds.

Circum-Disc certainly wasn’t the first musician created label in France, but Orins recalls that its birth came about at a time when “almost no record company had the budget to produce anything, so it was easier and more logical to do it by ourselves. We wanted to use it as a tool to promote our projects and the musicians of the collective, as well as have the possibility to propose something different than concerts. A recording can be a method to promote an artist, but it can also be part of the artistic path of a project, and both of those aspects are important to us.”

Artistic director of France’s National Jazz Orchestra, guitarist Olivier Benoit, who has recorded several CDs for HeliX adds: “The label reflects a specific approach to extending jazz improv and other styles, which wasn’t common in France 15 years ago. Circum exists because of necessity. Due to the economic situation, the so-called classic labels can no longer play their role of watching and support. So a label like Circum reflects the identity of an artistic group, and allows the audience to have an overview of that group’s different projects. Musician-run labels are a part of a home-made chain that has been extended into players creating festivals and organizing concerts by themselves. Musicians create conditions to practice, meet, share and promote their shows. Musicians often lose money putting out CDs, but at least they know a CD is available to promote their work.”

Impression by Orins’ quintet of the time was Circum-Disk’s first release. It was financed by a grant the collective received from a regional music institution, and it’s still in print. Since that time financing for the discs come from government grants, contributions from the collective as well as from musicians involved in individual productions, plus sales of earlier CDs. The usual press run is between 500 and 1,000. About four of the 42 discs are completely sold out with no plans yet to re-press them. Although the situation varies from release to release, the association usually retains about 20% of the profit, if there is one, to cover general costs, with 80% going to the producer, usually the musician(s). “For me the success of Circum-Disc depends in a large part on Peter’s presence,” says keyboardist Jeremie Ternoy, a non-Muzzix member, who has been featured on nine Circum-Disc sessions. “He’s a wonderful drummer, who has also become an excellent sound engineer who knows how to organize sessions. The most important thing about Circum-Disk is that it allows projects to exist. Without Circum Disc, many projects and musicians would have no visibility.”

Although he has been featured on 26 of the labels’ releases so far, Orins also records for other imprints as do other members of the collective. “There is no exclusivity about the label,” he notes. “Everybody is free, and even encouraged, to record somewhere else. We’re very proud of all the releases, but some musicians or bands would be happy to get more exposure for a project than what you get with Circum-Disc. This is a micro-economy, especially in our field. I guess we are just happy to be able to publish our music and to make it known.”

The majority of Circum-Disc’s projects are available as CDs, three are on both CD and LP, with only one, Empty Orchestras, Orins’ solo disc only accessible on vinyl and as a download All sessions can be downloaded from the Circum-Disc website as mp3, FLAC or high-resolution FLAC files as well as through streaming services or download platform like iTunes and Amazon. “Physical sales are still much more important and numerous for us,” Orins reports. “But for unknown projects or musicians, being available on the web or on streaming platforms can help promote sales.”

Two non-Muzzix members who collaborate with Orins and trumpeter Pruvost, are pianist Satoko Fujii and trumpeter Natsuki Tamura. Their band Kaze has three CDs on Circum-Disc and with pianist Sophie Agnel and Didier Lasserre added to the quartet, will have a new CD, Trouble Kaze released in 2017. Others scheduled sessions will be guitarist Ivann Cruz’s first solo album, the fifth CD by pianist Stefan Orins’ trio and the fourth by the Toc trio with Ternoy. Despite the presence of sessions by non-Muzzix members such as Fujii and Tamura, saxophonist Jean-Luc Guionnet and Ternoy, Circum-Disc continue to fulfil its original mandate: exposing the music of members of the collective. As Orins says: “Our releases are the best illustrations of what we do.”

—For The New York City Jazz Record August 2017