An Interview with Scott Wenzel: Mosaic Records Producer (Revisited)

Back in 2008, I was fortunate enough to interview Scott Wenzel of Mosaic Records. That interview help draw eyes to this blog and I’ve been curious about a follow-up for awhile. This summer, Scott and I e-mailed back and forth about how things have changed for Mosaic:

Q1: In our last interview, we briefly discussed emerging technology in music. At that time, Mosaic had mostly ceased to issue vinyl in favor of CDs. Yet here we are almost seven years later and vinyl is back in a big way. With CD sales dropping precipitously, is there pressure on Mosaic to release music digitally (perhaps in a lossless audio file format)? Where do you see Mosaic heading in terms of format. Is streaming an option?

Streaming is not an option at this point as we’re actually caught in a legal net that is dictated by the parent record companies. For the most part, Mosaic is routinely cleared by the parent company for re-release on either LP or CD but currently we are not given the rights to put the music out in any type of audio file. And although downloading is the way most people obtain the music of their choice these days, we have stayed afloat and are dedicated to do what we have been doing for as long as we can by offering listeners an opportunity to physically collect, hold and cherish the music in a tangible way. Would you believe that we still have customers calling us for a printed catalog (which we offer annually) since they don’t own a computer! So, even with CD sales dropping, Mosaic has this niche that very few labels, if any, can claim to and until something else of a physical nature can replace the LP or CD, I see us as continuing in this format indefinitely. (By the way, many of our customers take our LPs and CDs and then download it themselves onto whatever device they use for listening so it’s kind of a “win-win”).

Q2: I am a big fan of Mosaic’s Daily Jazz Gazette. How did this come about and has it helped drive traffic to your site and product? The internet has been a great leveler in terms of access to jazz in all forms (from all eras). Is this wealth of availability a good thing for the music or has piracy and streaming undercut an already niche market’s profitability? 

There’s a richness of great writing, photos and videos available across the world that we come in contact with when putting together sets and we thought it would be a worthwhile service to have a place where we could curate this info and share with jazz fans. I’m not sure how much traffic or sales it drives but it certainly brings the music a lot closer to people. It also sparks a number of phone calls from customers ready to order the music they saw on our website! The availability of music is, of course, a good thing, however piracy obviously hurts any musician and small labels.

Q3: Has Mosaic discontinued its Select line? There hasn’t been a new one in quite awhile. I was a big fan of the Tyner, Chambers, & Moncur selects, though much of that music has since been re-issued by the originating labels. Was that a factor in the decision?

The reason for the discontinuation of the Mosaic Select and Mosaic Singles line is plain and simple. Financial. Although our hearts dictate the passion of what we release, the bottom line is that we make enough of a profit off of each set to continue in our mission. Generally speaking we need to produce sets that are at the minimum 4 CDs worth of music. Anything less than that is suicidal. It’s too bad since the Selects and Singles were price friendly for our customers and served as a ways and means of making available certain chunks of music that normally would not be feasible in a larger set.

Gospel Trane: The Devotional Music Of Alice Coltrane (1982-1995)

When Alice Coltrane retired from secular life in the early ’80s to devote herself fully to the Ashram she founded outside of L.A. (Sai Anantam Ashram), consensus was that her music making life was “on hold.” This didn’t prove entirely correct. Alice did fulfill her contractual obligations to Warner Bros. Records with Transfiguration in 1978 and didn’t release another commercially marketed album until 2004’s Translinear Light on Impulse! but turns out there wasn’t a big gap of nothing in between.

In researching Alice’s life for a class I taught recently, I stumbled upon information about a series of cassette-only releases Alice made between 1982 and 1995. These tapes, available only via her Ashram, were until recently extremely rare. Increased interest in Alice’s music though has led to their re-appearance on-line. Dublab posted a long essay and DJ mix of the sessions on their site and soon after the full tapes started appearing on YouTube:

The music is ridiculously beautiful, as far from jazz as one can get yet a through-line exists all the way back to Alice’s work with her husband. Alice’s voice is particularly hypnotizing:

The more one delves into Alice’s complete discography, the easier it is to ascertain her particular genius, one that fully assimilated the genius of her own late husband and refined it into something uniquely her own.

Blue Note 75 for 75: The Master List

  1. Blue Mitchell – Step Lightly (1963)
  2. Andrew Hill – Grass Roots (1968)
  3. Lee Morgan – City Lights (1957)
  4. Donald Byrd – Free Form (1961)
  5. Ike Quebec – Blue Harlem (1944)
  6. Lee Morgan – Vol. 3 (1957)
  7. Horace Silver – Blowin’ The Blues Away (1959)
  8. Ornette Coleman – The Empty Foxhole (1966)
  9. Pete La Roca – Basra (1965)
  10. Jimmy Smith – Cool Blues (1958)
  11. Dexter Gordon – Our Man In Paris (1963)
  12. Dizzy Reece – Comin’ On (1960)
  13. Andrew Hill – Dance With Death (1968)
  14. Louis Smith – Smithville (1958)
  15. Tina Brooks – Minor Move (1958)
  16. Donald Byrd – Ethiopian Knights (1971)
  17. Sonny Rollins – A Night At The Village Vanguard (1957)
  18. Grant Green – Feelin’ The Spirit (1962)
  19. Duke Pearson – Profile (1959)
  20. Larry Young – Mother Ship (1969)
  21. J.R. Monterose – J.R. Monterose (1956)
  22. Grant Green – The Final Comedown (1972)
  23. Clifford Brown – A New Star On The Horizon (1953)
  24. Wayne Shorter – Juju (1964)
  25. Booker Ervin – Tex Book Tenor (1968)
  26. Stanley Turrentine – Mr. Natural (1964)
  27. Jutta Hipp – At The Hickory House (1956)
  28. Sonny Clark –  Cool Struttin’ (1958)
  29. Kenny Dorham – Una Mas (1963)
  30. Benny Morton’s All-Stars – The Sheik Of Araby (1945)
  31. Don Cherry – Complete Communion (1963)
  32. Johnny Griffin – Introducing Johnny Griffin (1956)
  33. McCoy Tyner – The Real McCoy (1967)
  34. Freddie Hubbard – Open Sesame (1960)
  35. John Coltrane – Blue Train (1957)
  36. Lee Morgan – Charisma (1966)
  37. Herbie Nichols – The Prophetic Herbie Nichols, Vol. 2 (1955)
  38. Blue Mitchell – Bring It Home To Me (1966)
  39. Stanley Turrentine – Look Out! (1960)
  40. Dexter Gordon – Clubhouse (1965)
  41. Ike Quebec – Blue & Sentimental (1961)
  42. J.J. Johnson – The Eminent J.J. Johnson, Vol. 1 (1953)
  43. Lee Morgan – Live At The Lighthouse (1970)
  44. Freddie Hubbard & Woody Shaw – The Eternal Triangle (1987)
  45. Cannonball Adderley – Somethin’ Else (1958)
  46. Wayne Shorter – Adam’s Apple (1966)
  47. Fats Navarro – The Fabulous Fats Navarro, Vol. 1 (1947)
  48. Larry Young – Unity (1965)
  49. Hank Mobley – Quintet (1957)
  50. Herbie Hancock – Speak Like A Child (1968)
  51. Charlie Rouse – Bossa Nova Bacchanal (1962)
  52. Harold Land – Take Aim (1960)
  53. Bennie Green – Minor Revelation (1958)
  54. Jackie McLean – Destination… Out! (1963)
  55. Freddie Redd – Redd’s Blues (1961)
  56. Joe Henderson – The State Of The Tenor, Vol. 1 (1985)
  57. Horace Silver – Further Explorations (1958)
  58. Miles Davis – Vol. 3 (1954)
  59. McCoy Tyner – Cosmos (1976)
  60. Dizzy Reece – Blues In Trinity (1958)
  61. Horace Parlan – Headin’ South (1960)
  62. Lee Morgan – The Gigolo (1965)
  63. Kenny Burrell – Blue Lights, Vol. 2 (1958)
  64. Frank Foster – Here Comes Frank Foster (1954)
  65. Bobby Hutcherson – Total Eclipse (1968)
  66. Paul Chambers – Bass On Top (1957)
  67. Hank Mobley – Soul Station (1960)
  68. Jutta Hipp – With Zoot Sims (1956)
  69. Horace Parlan – Happy Frame Of Mind (1963)
  70. McCoy Tyner – Extensions (1970)
  71. Lee Morgan – The Sidewinder (1964)
  72. Art Blakey & The Jazz Messengers – A Night At Birdland, Vol. 1 (1954)
  73. Andrew Hill – Time Lines (2006)
  74. Don Cherry – Where Is Brooklyn (1966)
  75. Ornette Coleman – At The Golden Circle, Stockholm (1965)

Blue Note 75 for 75: Ornette Coleman’s At The Golden Circle, Stockholm (1965)

Our seventy-fifth and final feature for Blue Note 75 for 75 is dedicated to the genius and legacy of Ornette Coleman. At The Golden Circle, Stockholm, Vols. 1 & 2 are an absolute master statement from Ornette. Working in an appreciative, accepting environment and backed by an extremely sympathetic rhythm section, Ornette goes for absolute broke eight different tunes that see him switching between three different instruments.

Painting by Alessandro Bazan.

This was the recording that really hooked me on Ornette. It wasn’t the first of his records I heard or even loved but it was the one that most helped me “get” his vision and I’ve worn through multiple copies of this set in recent years (either by overplay or lending them out and never getting them back — which in some ways is a huge compliment). Hearing Ornette on alto blaze like the northern lights over a track like “Faces And Places,” with utterly flexible and energized backing by bassist David Izenzon and drummer Charles Moffett, is an absolute joy:

In many ways it is difficult to write about this record. Not just because of Ornette’s passing, though that is a major factor, but also because I struggle to put into words exactly what it is about this record that lights my ears up — the best I can do is state that At The Golden Circle captures three powerful, like-minded musicians going deeply and emphatically into their art and expressing themselves on a profound musical level, and the audience (though polite) gets that and reciprocates it. You can’t do much better than that!

Take “Snowflakes And Sunshine” as an example. This is a challenging tune with Ornette alternating between violin and trumpet, using both in unconventional manners, and little in the way of “swing,” and yet the result is quite engaging and appealing.

Part of it is that this record just pops! The bass and drums particularly have such life to them and the balance of all three instruments strikes you as being almost equal. Add in the near-telepathic feeling between these three musicians and it is hard not to hear the charge everyone in the room must have felt fifty-years ago. That’s pretty damn cool!

Thank you, Ornette Coleman for this brilliant challenging music! And thank you, David Izenzon and Charles Moffett for helping realize it. And thank you, Blue Note for issuing it. And lastly, I thank all of you who have joined me through this year-and-a-half long journey through seventy-five unique Blue Note reviews.! I’ll be back soon with a master list posting, some analysis, and announcements of other projects to come!

RIP, Ornette Coleman (1930-2015)

Ornette Coleman has passed away. You can read his NYT obituary here:

I had the extreme privilege of teaching a class about Ornette at Brooklyn Brainery last summer, two days before seeing him perform in Prospect Park, Brooklyn. Patti Smith, among many others, feted him that night:

Ornette’s music was formative to my early jazz explorations. I still remember the first time I heard his Free Jazz album. I was maybe fifteen years old at the time and it freaked me way out. My absolute favorite Ornette albums are Science Fiction & At The Golden Circle (which absolutely has to be my final Blue Note 75 for 75 choice now).

Best wishes, Ornette, on your journey onward. May you truly find “Peace”:

Ornette Coleman, alto sax; Don Cherry, cornet; Charlie Haden, bass; Billy Higgins, drums — Atlantic Records, 1959.

Blue Note 75 for 75: Don Cherry’s Where Is Brooklyn?

Our seventy-fourth (and second-to-last) feature for Blue Note 75 for 75 is Don Cherry’s Where Is Brooklyn? If you are looking for a hard-charging, emotively radiant record full of heady passion and strident avant-leanings, you couldn’t pick better. Cherry’s previous Blue Notes were long-form symphonic suites that required deep, almost meditative attention. Not so Where Is Brooklyn?, which is as immediate a jazz album as I have ever heard.

Cherry, on cornet exclusively, is joined by the volcanic Pharoah Sanders on tenor sax. Like Cherry, Sanders is an expansionist player, going in all directions at once, yet somehow the two of them manage to find an overarching mindset on a series of tunes that lack any semblance of melody on which to hang your hooks. Rhythm is the key, set large by bassist Henry Grimes and drummer Ed Blackwell —  a seething, shimmering, terse wave of rhythm that liberates the front men to wail in omnidirectional fashion. Check what I mean on the thunderous “Awake Nu”:

For those of you slightly put-out by such intensity, it is but a facet of this record. There is a gentler, more playful side to both men. Pharoah’s playing particularly channels Sonny Rollins on “There Is The Bomb” (Cherry who played with Rollins often may have inspired this emphasis):

This record has recently become hip again as its title lends itself a slight hipsterian mystery (I see this LP for sale all over Brooklyn lately) and Cherry’s ever-morphing musical reputation will always draw ears from those both in-and-out of the jazz world.

Stay tuned for more Blue Note 75 for 75… (the last one!)

Blue Note 75 for 75: Andrew Hill’s Time Lines (2006)

Our seventy-third feature for Blue Note 75 for 75 is Andrew Hill’s Time Lines, a stunning return to the label, though sadly Hill’s final album. It is a powerful, moody, mysterious work of art from a unique artist whose piano work perfectly bridges all the gaps of the post-bop framework. Check out Hill’s stunning, haunting ode to his friend Malachi Favors:

Andrew Hill had been an obscure, neglected figure in jazz for quite some time. His best known album, Point Of Departure, was known more for the contributions of sideman Eric Dolphy than for the leader’s own compositions and playing. That started to change in the late 80’s and by the time of Time Lines release in 2006, Hill’s reputation had been thoroughly rehabilitated. It was the perfect moment to release a new record, one that bridges the gaps of his career. The title track nails the sort of shifting post-bop that marks Hill’s innovation in genre:

Trumpeter Charles Tolliver had played with Hill on-and-off for decades and is a welcome voice here. Multi-reedist Greg Tardy harkens back to Dolphy with his bass clarinet work particularly and the rhythm section of John Hebert on bass on Eric McPherson on drums nail the sliding scale of time signatures and halting swing. As for Hill himself, his piano playing is as elusive yet engaging as ever.

I had the good fortune to see Hill perform just weeks before his passing in 2007 and this album is a bittersweet reminder of just how much music Hill still had inside him.

Stay tuned for more Blue Note 75 for 75… (two more to go!)