Gearbox Records Runs on the Adoration of Music

  I  
Image

Los Angeles-based vocalist Dwight Trible connected with London’s Gearbox Records to release his latest album, Mothership.

(Photo: Chuck Koton)

Stationed behind an unassuming brick facade is the home of the label and analog mastering studio that has helped lead the London jazz resurgence during the past five years, releasing the debut record for saxophone-drum duo Binker and Moses, as well as recordings from percussionist Sarathy Korwar and tuba player Theon Cross.

Venture into the studio and you’ll likely find its founder, Darrel Sheinman, in a workman’s coat, tinkering with a reel-to-reel tape machine, surrounded by vinyl stock and working on at least three things at once. An ex-punk drummer, Sheinman founded the label in 2009 with the ethos of “releasing music to create the best possible sound.” He believes that “if you record and master something beautifully, you can convince people to enjoy it much more.”

It’s a conviction that’s paid off for Sheinman, who has taken his label from releasing a small selection of BBC archival jazz recordings to selling out a newly discovered Thelonious Monk live set last year, as well as producing sessions for Butcher Brown and Nitin Sawhney.

“In the last year, something has changed and we’re not quite sure what,” Sheinman said in his London drawl. “People approach us more and we’re selling a hell of a lot more records. It’s nice to be recognized for some of the stuff we’ve been doing; I’ve always been very straight with the artists: We have a 50/50 profit share and we were early doing this, so I’m proud now that we’re making a difference.”

With the vinyl-buying resurgence starting to pay dividends for Gearbox, it’s investing further in the local jazz scene, as well as expanding into the folk and electronic worlds.

“We have the new Binker Golding Quartet record coming, which will be this ‘cool’ Michael Brecker sound, and then we also have a new drum-and-bass producer releasing with us, as well as the next one from Abdullah Ibrahim,” Sheinman said.

One look at Gearbox’s eclectic catalog and it’s easy to see that the label runs on the adoration of music, not just the pursuit of profit.

“The music we release has always had to be music that I love, because I feel if I love it, someone else will too,” Sheinman said. “And luckily, my tastes have developed organically with what audiences want now, which is how we’ve found ourselves—somewhat unwittingly—at the center of this London jazz scene. I try to run an ego-less label, one where we’re all here on passion and loving what we do.”

This passionate, music-first attitude has seen Gearbox increasingly pop up on the radar of new talent, as well as that of established performers—namely, Los Angeles-based vocalist Dwight Trible, whose latest album, Mothership, is the imprint’s most recent release.

“I’ve always been a fan of UK music,” Trible said in a booming baritone over the phone. “And Gearbox seemed like the perfect embodiment of a fresh sound with an open, nonjazz-specific ethos, so I sent them an email. They liked what they heard and the rest wasn’t difficult at all. In fact, it felt incredibly natural and beautiful, a coming together that was meant to be.”

The result is one of Trible’s most wide-ranging records to date, encompassing the legacy of his mentor and Pan-Afrikan People’s Arkestra leader Horace Tapscott, as well as showcasing the future generations of West Coast jazz on collaborations with Kamasi Washington and Mark de Clive-Lowe.

“This record is honoring a lot of people I love,” Trible said, “and I love the fact that we recorded it all analogue, collaboratively with Darrel in L.A. at Sunset Sound studio.”

For such an audiophile, recording in the renowned Southern California studio was “a dream come true” for Sheinman, and an experience he’s working to recreate at his own headquarters.

“What little labels like us really need is more funding,” he said. “We don’t have the pockets to do half the stuff we’d want to do: [We’d like to] give the artists better advances, make better products and make people stars.”

With plans underway to celebrate 10 years of Gearbox through the release of a box-set, an exhibition of cover art and a spate of live shows, it seems this star-making potential might be ascendant.

“Music is so subjective, no one really knows what will do well. You just have to follow your ear and have hope,” Sheinman said. “But it does feel like we’re at a particularly exciting time now, and I can’t wait to see what the next 10 years will bring.” DB