November 10, 2011

Label Spotlight
Bisceglie, Italy

By Ken Waxman

No matter how many products are in the marketplace quality wins out, and Italian label Auand demonstrates this. Celebrating its 10th Anniversary with a series of New York concerts, the label, located in Bisceglie, on the Adriatic seacoast, was founded by Marco Valente because, he says, with most Italian jazz labels dating from the 1970s, “I felt the Italian scene needed something new to shake up the market.”

Valente, who owns, a successful e-commerce site, admits to a “love of the so-called downtown New York scene. I often found its influence on some Italian musicians I work with”. Consequently Auand has often put out CDs by foreign, as well as Italian improvisers. With players such as Tim Berne, Jim Black and Bobby Previte, it has facilitated Americans recording with Italians.

Translated as ‘Warning” in the local dialect, Auand was picked as label name because it’s one easily remembered by non-Italians. A loan from Valente’s aunt financed the start-up, but since then every CD has been self-financed. Like, Auand is a one-man operation. “I do all aspects by myself, from scouting to executive producing, from press to marketing,” says Valente. “I prefer to release just a few albums a year to have time to work on promotion.”

Although the majority of the 26 Auand CDs have resulted from sessions organized by the musicians’ themselves, Valente notes that “I like to be involved from the beginning, including the choice of the music and the musicians. I take part in the decision regarding the recording studio, but I don’t have a favorite. I prefer musicians to feel good and work with someone they know. I like to have a high quality recording, with balanced, natural mixing and strong mastering.” Also, since 2009, Valente has operated an Auand-affiliated a booking and management agency.

This doesn’t mean that Valente is a martinet who forces his concepts on the players however. “He does have suggestions, but they’re always offered in a constructive and warm communicative setting,” notes Brooklyn-based saxophonist Ohad Talmor, who has recorded two CDs for the label. “Marco has a pretty ‘hands off’ attitude and trusts the musicians,” he continues.

“I feel completely free to do what I want,” adds Paris-based reedist Francesco Bearzatti, who has recorded four Auand discs. “But Marco suggests many ideas as well. Auand has an aesthetic that is very original and precise. Marco must like what he produces. If not there’s no way it will be on his label.”

One example of this is Bearzatti’s Virus CD. “I called Marco because I was doing my second CD and I wanted to do something different,” the saxophonist recalls. “My first record was more in the jazz tradition, original tunes but with piano, bass and drums. I asked Marco to produce a modern organ trio because I had different ideas in my mind and I knew that Auand had a different concept.” Not only did the CD build his Continental reputation, reports Bearzatti, but in 2003 he was named “best new talent” in an Italian critics’ poll.

The label owner’s New York contacts have led to other connections. For instance Stolen Days by Bearzatti’s Sax Pistols came about in 2006 after the saxman told Valente wanted to do a rock-styled session playing his horn with guitar effects. “He saw [electric bassist] Stomu Takeishi at a gig and loved him. I suggested [drummer] Dan Weiss because I knew he was a John Bonham fan,” recalls Valente. “The trio worked together perfectly.” Intollerant featuring Berne with Mr. Rencore, was the result of that Livorno-based trio seeking a guest artist. “Of course they knew Tim from his records but they never met him,” report Valente. “I’ve known Tim for years and sent him their music. He accepted to work with them and we invited him to participate in a festival in Bari which premiered the work.”

Talmor notes that releasing Playing in Traffic on Auand in 2009 by Steve Swallow, Adam Nussbaum and himself “was a good deal, as Marco would be producing a group led by a senior figure of the jazz establishment, yet with a foot in the ‘young’ contemporary scene.” The when it came to NewsReel, his recent CD as a leader, “I had an offer to put it out on a ‘bigger’ label but preferred to go with Marco knowing his true love for the music and his very supportive stance toward the group,” Talmor adds.

Growth of the Internet and musicians’ schedules make up for the geographic distance, Talmor relates. “I travel extensively so Marco and I meet up often enough if there’s a real need. Having Auand in Italy actually presents some advantages: When I did a two-week European tour with Swallow and Nussbaum Marco was able to sync CDs to be sold at each show, overcoming distances and border issues. I suspect having Auand based in Europe has led to more European reviews and contacts which positively affects touring.”

Although Auand discs are available from iTunes, Valente states that “I don’t like digital downloads and always declared I didn’t want Auand on digital platforms. This year I gave up due to some musicians asking for it. I don’t think downloads will fully replace CDs, anyways.”

Auand’s most recent CDs, Room of Mirrors and Living in a Movie are part of a new piano series. While he likes piano trios, for years Valente refused such projects because they weren’t part of Auand’s “artistic path”. Now he’s relented and promises more. Committed to releasing two or three CDs every year, the next scheduled are by guitarist Giovanni Francesca and another by the Barber Mouse trio playing pop songs by Italy’s Subsonica. The Auand celebration, which takes place in different New York venues, will also be recorded for later release.

The fact that so many Italian and American musicians are making the trip to play the Auand fest, says a lot about how Auand is regarded. As Tamor states: “Marco defends a vision of music and supports it financially, logistically and aesthetically.”

–For New York City Jazz Record November 2011