Guest post: Andrew Oliver on the birth of a new jazz label and album

The Portland Jazz Composers' Ensemble starts recording music, including a new Andrew Oliver trio

By ANDREW OLIVER

Editor’s Note: When we heard  from Andrew Oliver, the tireless jazz pianist and band organizer, about the new record label he had in the works for the Portland Jazz Composers’ Ensemble AND his own contribution to its list, we thought we’d ask him to write about it all for us. And he did.

Next week I’ll be releasing a new trio album called “The Northwest Continuum” on my new label PJCE Records. Strangely enough, even though I’ve released at least 10 records so far in my life, I have never put out a jazz piano trio record, rather unusually for a jazz pianist as the piano-bass-drums setup is a very classic sound in the jazz piano tradition. This one came about through an interesting series of circumstances unfolding over many years, but I’m pretty pleased with the result and hope that it reflects at least a certain degree of my musical aesthetic at the moment.

PJCE Records began after my good friend and frequent collaborator Dan Duval and I had the possibly unwise idea to start a new independent jazz record label as an offshot of our nonprofit, the Portland Jazz Composers’ Ensemble (PJCE). The PJCE has been around for about 5 years and features a 12-piece ensemble commissioning and performing new jazz by Portland area composers. We wanted to find a way, in addition to the large ensemble, to feature and disseminate more of the great jazz that’s happening in our community. We decided to release a new CD each month by a different local ensemble playing original music, ranging from contemporary straight-ahead to avant-garde jazz and featuring existing groups alongside new collaborations.

Andrew Oliver Trio 2To do this, we knew we had to approach jazz recording in a somewhat minimalist and historical way. Many of the classic albums of the ‘50’s and ‘60’s on labels such as Blue Note, Prestige, and Contemporary were recorded live to two-track with the band all together in one room. In this scenario the engineer is mixing the different microphones together as the band is playing, and it’s going directly to a stereo audio file (or in the old days, stereo tape).

This is dangerous in that it eliminates the opportunity to tweak the relative levels of the various instruments later on, but it’s also really efficient and reflects a certain live aesthetic which reinforces the improvisatory nature of jazz. We’re aiming to keep the costs under $750 for each album, significantly cheaper than the $2,000-3,000 it would take to record, mix, master, and reproduce an album using more traditional methods. We’re still working on the best way to distribute these costs between the PJCE and the artists but the kinks are slowly being worked out to create an economical and efficient way to get the music out there. We’ve attracted a lot of interest from local musicians of varying ages and styles, and in the coming months we’ll be putting out albums from the Kin Trio (minimalist bebop), the Blake Lyman Quintet (contemporary original jazz), Ken Ollis (avant-garde flute/piano/drums trio), and Art Resnick (pianist/composer working both in jazz and classical styles as well as the intersection between them). We’re also featuring podcasts a couple weeks before each release on our website with interviews and previews of the music.

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PJCE Records gave Dan and me the chance to record several heretofore undocumented projects and compositions of our own to kick things off. Having never released a trio album before, I wanted to collaborate on record with one of my oldest friends, Tyson Stubelek, a great drummer who lives in New York. We grew up playing jazz in the Portland Youth Jazz Orchestra together while we were in high school and still perform together whenever possible, notably in the Canadian-American collective Tunnel Six. Because Tyson and I learned to play jazz together, we have a musical connection that I don’t often feel with other drummers, and I really wanted to let that be on display when conceptualizing this album. I was also excited to work with one of my favorite bassists, Bill Athens, whose solid time and great bass energy are a valuable asset to many musical projects in Portland.

I wanted to use the trio partially to pull out some of my older tunes from back when my writing was a bit ahead of my ability to perform the pieces. The album opens with the “Tea Suite,” three songs I wrote dedicated to some of my favorite teas from around the world. “The Tower of Cosmic Reflection” was actually the name of the Northwest location of the Tao of Tea where Tyson and I used to spend many hours drinking tea. “High Mountain Dark” was a great Taiwanese black tea roasted with ginseng for an amazing flavor, and “Strong Fire” was a related oolong that they started serving there once they ran out of the High Mountain Dark. It was fun to revisit those tunes and hearken back to the days of youthful existential crises and nerding out on old Keith Jarrett albums.

02 High Mountain Dark

Speaking of Keith Jarrett, I was also happy that our bassist Bill Athens brought in three excellent tunes which lend themselves very nicely to the interactive and open environment of a piano trio. His tune “Plan of Action” reminds me a lot of some of Keith Jarrett’s tunes of the 1970’s, and the harmony of the tune was at least as intimidating as some of those classics if not more. Somehow we bashed through it and the album version is a lot of fun.

The other selections on the album are a mix of new and old tunes by me and Bill and one collaborative tune that Tyson and I wrote together a few years ago while working on another project, a secret indie-rock album we are making together featuring Tyson’s singing. This one has been in the works for many years and will eventually be released, but for the moment it was nice to put at least one of the songs out in this acoustic trio format, albeit without vocals.

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We recorded “The Northwest Continuum” in one lengthy day at the Map Room Studio, one of my favorite studios in town in SE Portland. They have a great piano and the owner/engineer, Josh Powell, shares my interest in a very natural recording sound as well as building his own vintage style microphones. We decided to do it in a studio because I have been the one doing the live to 2-track mixing for the label, which is obviously impossible while playing!  However, I tried to maintain a subtle hand while mixing it, keeping the sounds natural and not overly processed. You’ll hear the sound of the room in the drums, for example, but to my ears this makes it feel more like you’re there listening to a band playing together in a live environment.

All things considered, I am looking forward to the release of this little album. It’s refreshing to record and release an album in a short period of time with minimal “production” in the traditional sense (i.e. lots of mixing and mastering time and costs, various promotional considerations, etc). Although I really love making well crafted studio albums with a lot of time and money, I’m happy to also be spearheading this label project where the point is more to get a bunch of great music out there to showcase and build interest in what’s happening in Portland’s great jazz scene. I hope this album can contribute to that cause and stay tuned for more!

The album will be out Friday, Feb 15, available for download and mail order here, and also for sale at Music Millenium!

UPCOMING PERFORMANCES:

February 16, 8-10 PM
Blake Lyman Quintet (original compositions by Blake feat. Blake Lyman, Sunjae Lee saxophones; Andrew Oliver, piano; Arcellus Sykes, bass; Sam Foulger, drums)
Shaker and Vine (formerly Vino Vixens)
2929 SE Powell
$5

February 20, 9-11 PM
The Ocular Concern (new minimalist jazz with occasional covers of world folk music feat. Andrew Oliver, keyboard; Dan Duval, guitar; Stephen Pancerev, drums; Nathan Beck, vibes and mbira; Lee Elderton, clarinet)
Portland Jazz Festival show @ Rogue Ale House
1339 NW Flanders
No Cover

March 7, 8-10 PM
PJCE Sextet (6 person core group of the PJCE playing original music by its members and other composers in Portland, feat. Tom Barber, trumpet; Lee Elderton, saxes; Dan Duval, guitar; Andrew Oliver, piano; Bill Athens, bass; Ken Ollis, drums)
Shaker and Vine (formerly Vino Vixens)
2929 SE Powell
$5

March 22, 7:30-9 PM
Portland Jazz Composers Ensemble (12 person ensemble premiering new compositions by Reed Wallsmith, Kyle Williams, Andrew Oliver, and Eric Allen, also featuring music by Dan Duval, Joe Cunningham, and Justin Morell)
March Music Moderne Festival @ Community Music Center
3350 SE Francis St.
$15, $12 students, all ages, tickets available here

 

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