Cuneiform Records Takes 2018 Hiatus


The Cuneiform Records team poses with a few copies of DownBeat magazine.

(Photo: Courtesy Cuneiform Records)

Cuneiform Records, a Silver Springs, Maryland, label that’s released hundreds of jazz and experimental albums beginning back in 1984, is taking a hiatus from issuing new music.

Steve Feigenbaum, the imprint’s founder, is using 2018 to assess Cuneiform’s future. The label’s albums still will be available for purchase. Wayside Distribution, an affiliated endeavor that distributes a wide variety of experimental music, is unaffected by the move.

“There is no business model that lets you compete with free,” Feigenbaum said Friday about his imprint’s current state.

Since its first releases more than 30 years ago, Cuneiform has trucked in some adventurous original music, as with avant-gardists R. Stevie Moore and Richard Pinhas, while keeping an eye on its influences. A clear affinity for Soft Machine and its jazz-rock explorations are apparent through not only archival releases of the British troupe, but also solo releases from the band’s Hugh Hopper and Robert Wyatt.

“[A]s sales of recorded music in all formats have steadily declined, it’s become increasingly difficult to finance the release of new high-quality musical content,” Joyce Nalewajk, the label’s director of publicity and promotion, wrote in a news release. “A glut of free music on the internet and nearly free music on streaming platforms has devalued music.”

The imprint’s pause seems almost antithetical to the pace—and quality—it’s maintained. In 2017, Wadada Leo Smith’s America’s National Parks, which the label released, was voted Jazz Album of the Year in DownBeat’s annual Critics Poll. The label’s most recent release was a sprawling 12-disc, two-DVD set focused on French experimentalists Art Zoyd.

“This is a really hard thing, but it’s been hard for a long time. Doing this is kind of a relief,” Feigenbaum said about a decision that’s been in the works for 10 months. “Sometimes, when you have a hard decision, getting to that decision is the hardest part. … I can live with that.”

Cuneiform’s releases are available on Bandcamp and on its homepage. DB

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