Jeff Gauthier & Cryptogramophone Records
Consequently, Alex Cline's 1999 set Sparks Fly Upwards conveys his strong compositional style, not ordinarily befitting a progressive jazz drummer. At times, this recording sparks resemblances to some of the dreamier productions witnessed on Manfred Eicher's infamous ECM Records label. Partially due to the sonic aesthetic and probing lines performed by Gauthier, keyboardist Wayne Peet and guitarist G.E. Stinson. But it's vocalist Aina Kemanis who shapes the upper layers of this imaginative set, speckled with hauntingly beautiful segments, and corresponding sheets of sound. Essentially, Cline's music might seem either fragile or somewhat apocalyptic in scope.
The following interview with Jeff Gauthier was conducted via email.
All About Jazz: What are some of the main obstacles encountered while running this record label?
Jeff Gauthier: Where to start? The music is the easy part. I think that finding the right distribution partners is the most difficult task for any label. Right now the business is so depressed, that it's difficult to find distributors who understand and care about the music, who are also in good enough shape to pay on a timely basis. Right now some of our distributors and retailers are cutting back or filing for bankruptcy. This not only interrupts the cashflow, but also forces us to find new partners for the territories in question. Next on the list would be finding ways to break through all of the noise. There are so many small labels and so much good music out there, that it's difficult to break out and get our music noticed by writers, radio people and our audience. We try to do this by making the CDs look and sound as beautiful as possible. There really is a difference between what musicians can do on their home computers, and what professionals can do using the best technology. We try to highlight these differences.
AAJ: Any long-term shifts in direction or perhaps expansion, i.e. representing different genres, signing artists from other geographic areas, etc?
JG: We have a new package that we're pretty excited about. We call it a Cryptopak, and we've designed it from the ground up with a friend and supporter who is a printer. It's similar to the Digipak that we already use, but the look and feel is much more interesting and classy, and there are no plastic parts involved. We think that this beautiful, fully recyclable package will give us a special look that will set us apart. There's actually a lot going on that I can't talk too much about until the ink dries on all of the contracts, but we will be bringing new business partners on board, which will allow us to put out more CDs per year and also sign some artists that I've wanted to work with for some time. We already have artists in New York (Mark Dresser, Erik Friedlander, Gregg Bendian), and Los Angeles (Nels Cline, Alex Cline, Don Preston, etc.) and San Francisco (Scott Amendola) and plan to continue making connections between these three musical communities.
AAJ: From your perspective, and musically speaking, what is Cryptograqmmophone all about?
JG: Cryptogramophone was formed in 1998 to record three volumes of music by the late composer and bassist Eric von Essen, and also CDs by several L.A. based musicians who used to work with Eric, like Nels Cline, Alex Cline and myself. Our subsequent projects began making connections with musicians from the downtown New York scene like Mark Dresser, Erik Friedlander and Gregg Bendian, and the roster of artists has grown organically from this beginning. We've come to represent a contingent within the L.A. jazz community that has a sound that is informed by the jazz tradition, but leans more toward extended compositions that include improvisation at it's core.
Out of 22 releases (around 200 cuts) there are only two songs that could be considered "jazz standards," and one of them would be completely unrecognizable to most listeners ("I Love You," performed by Don Preston, from Transformation ). There are also a few completely improvised projects, but usually these are by musicians who have a history of playing this music together and have developed their own musical language. It then becomes the producer's job to put these projects together in a "compositional" fashion. We also went 4 years and 10 releases before we had a saxophone on any of our CDs. We now have 3 CDs out of 22 that include saxophone...and none as a leader. That's most unusual for a jazz label. It wasn't intentional either! Our music tends to be mostly string-based (guitar, violin, 'cello, bass) and piano based as well. We almost always generate our projects from the ground up, which means we're not really in the market to buy tapes, however I'm always listening, and occasionally interesting things find their way here.
AAJ: Is it an evolutionary process? Are you looking to expand your artistic direction?