Jazz Recordings With a Sense of History and Discovery
By NATE CHINEN DEC. 5, 2016
Sarah Vaughan, San Francisco, 1970. Resonance Records is releasing a 1978 live recording from the artist. Tom Copi
One of this year’s must-hear new jazz releases was recorded half a century ago. Another one dates to 1968, and others from similar points on the timeline. All of which highlights a trend: Even by the standards of the jazz record industry, which routinely mines the past, this has been an exceptional year for historical windfalls, many of them arriving with a spark of discovery.
That bounty includes “Ready Take One,” an all-new Erroll Garner compilation, and “Unheard Bird,” made up of recently discovered session takes by Charlie Parker. And the National Jazz Museum in Harlem recently began releasing digital albums culled from a famous trove of historical recordings: “The Savory Collection, Volume 2 — Jumpin’ at the Woodside: The Count Basie Orchestra Featuring Lester Young” will be out Friday through Apple Music and iTunes.
The most remarkable recent releases in this vein have been on Resonance Records, a young label with an obsessive sense of mission. These include “Larry Young in Paris: The ORTF Recordings,” featuring Mr. Young, the trailblazing postbop organist, at his mid-’60s peak; “Some Other Time: The Lost Session From the Black Forest,” an illuminating 1968 studio album by the pianist Bill Evans; and one live recording apiece by the great singers Sarah Vaughan (in ’78) and Shirley Horn (in ’88), each working a small room in relaxed and commanding form.
Resonance also released two albums by the tenor saxophonist Stan Getz this year, from a 1976 engagement at the Keystone Korner in San Francisco: “Moments in Time,” a fine quartet outing, and “Getz/Gilberto ’76,” a reunion with the bossa nova regent João Gilberto, who sounds casual and aglow. The label kicked off the year with a revelatory early document of the Thad Jones-Mel Lewis Orchestra, “All My Yesterdays: The Debut 1966 Recordings At the Village Vanguard.”
Zev Feldman, the general manager of Resonance Records, is credited with many successes for the label. Shayan Asgharnia for The New York Times
(Prices range for these releases, since some are single-discs and others are two-disc.)
Each of these albums has come with an abundance of context: unearthed archival photographs, commissioned critical essays, interviews with any surviving musicians heard on the recordings. (The CD booklet for “Larry Young in Paris” runs to 68 pages.)
From the sound restoration to the package design, Resonance doubles down on the collector’s ideal of album-as-artifact. That meticulous conviction, which extends to a series of accompanying video documentaries online, has helped move the label from a roguish upstart to a leader in its field.
“Each album is really like a mini-exhibition,” George Klabin, the label’s founder and president, said by phone from his office in Los Angeles. “If you went to a museum of art, and they had a retrospective on some artist, a room full of his paintings, it would be like that — only in the form of one recording, which we release.”
Mr. Klabin came to this place somewhat by accident. A longtime recording engineer — he taped those Jones-Lewis Orchestra recordings himself, while a sophomore at Columbia University — he set up a nonprofit, the Rising Jazz Stars Foundation, with the intention of helping emerging artists record and distribute their work. Resonance, a division of the foundation, started under that rubric.
Bill Evans in 1968. Resonance Records is releasing a studio album by the pianist from the same year. German Hasenfratz, via Andreas Brunner-Schwer
The picture changed when Michael Cuscuna, a veteran record producer — and the president of Mosaic Records, which set the gold standard for back-catalog jazz reissues — brought Mr. Klabin some unknown early tapes of the influential guitarist Wes Montgomery. This led to an album called “Echoes of Indiana Avenue” in 2012, followed by other Resonance releases of historical import, including “Bill Evans — Live at Art D’Lugoff’s Top of the Gate” and a pair of early albums by the saxophonist and flutist Charles Lloyd.
Along with Mr. Klabin, who leads the label’s in-house sound restoration and mastering team, Resonance owes its success to its general manager, Zev Feldman. A serious jazz fanatic who had worked in sales and marketing for major labels like PolyGram and Concord, Mr. Feldman did not know he could produce albums before Mr. Klabin assigned him that task.
“For a big part of my career, my passion has been a deterrent,” Mr. Feldman said this summer, during a conversation over coffee in Greenwich Village. “It has cost me promotions. It has kept people from hiring me because they felt threatened by my energy and my expressiveness.”
Those traits have served him well at Resonance, where an important part of his task involves clearances, estate permissions and other negotiations.
From left, Steven Williams, Shirley Horn and Charles Ables. A 1988 live recording by Horn is among new releases. via Library of Congress
“Zev is like a pit bull,” Mr. Cuscuna said, admiringly. “He’s been able to clear stuff that many of us, for energy or logical reasons, said was not worth it. So he’s pulled off one miracle after another.”
The label’s new offerings include live albums by the Three Sounds, a soul-jazz trio led by the pianist Gene Harris, and Dennis Coffey, the guitarist best known as a member of the Funk Brothers. (Both had a vinyl-only release for Black Friday, and are due out widely on Jan. 13.)
Next year’s plate of Resonance releases includes a big band album by the electric bass virtuoso Jaco Pastorius — “Truth, Liberty & Soul — Live in NYC: The Complete 1982 NPR Jazz Alive! Recording” — due out on Record Store Day, in April. Of course there will be others, all released according to the label’s standards.
“It’s very hard to replicate this,” Mr. Klabin said of his operating model. “If somebody wanted to, they would quickly be dissuaded and leave with their tail between their legs.” He laughed.
“It’s truly a philanthropy,” he said. “It’s a gift back to the world, to put these beautiful recordings out there this way, and hope that they will be appreciated.”