Arbors Records Puts Art First


Bandleader Adrian Cunningham has a strong relationship with the Florida-based label Arbors Records.

(Photo: Kurt Sneddon Photography)

For more than 30 years, the independent label Arbors Records has put artistic concerns ahead of budgetary ones. Based in Clearwater, Florida, Arbors is run by Rachel Domber, who cofounded the label with her husband, Mat, who passed away in 2012.

Among the artists associated with the label are pianists Dick Hyman, John O’Leary and Rossano Sportiello, bassist/vocalist Nicki Parrott, clarinetist Ken Peplowski and reedist Scott Robinson.

“After my husband died, I decided that I was going to continue focusing on music,” Domber said over the phone. “I’m funneling a lot of money into the record business because I just feel like I have to do that. I want to pay the musicians fairly. In fact, I’m paying them [more] right now because of the virus. Instead of donating to a cancer fund or Make-A-Wish and all that, I’m donating my money to the musicians.”

Among the label’s recent releases is a pandemic-themed album, The Lockdown Blues, by Professor Cunningham & His Old School. Vocalist/instrumentalist Adrian Cunningham—who plays clarinet, saxophone and flute, and who frequently tours in trombonist Wycliffe Gordon’s band—has a long relationship with Arbors. In addition to leader dates under his own name (such as his acclaimed 2019 disc, Play Lerner & Loewe), Cunningham releases retro-leaning, dance-worthy titles billed to his “Professor” persona.

The Lockdown Blues features Cunningham’s original compositions, including “Six Feet Is Too Far From You.” Because the album was created during the pandemic, all eight musicians involved recorded their parts in their individual homes. The process required careful communication between Cunningham, his bandmates and audio engineer Bill Moss. The result is a seamless gem of an album.

“I really had to conceptualize how it was going to sound before I passed the charts out,” Cunningham said via Zoom from Barcelona. “I had to have it conceptualized as much as possible, in terms of the arrangement and the energy. Because if the drummer is laying down a track, he doesn’t know what’s happening unless I know what’s happening. So I would tell him, ‘OK, on these four bars, the horns are going to come in.’”

Another gifted musician on the label’s roster is Brazilian guitarist Diego Figueiredo, whose new album, Antarctica, features solo acoustic guitar tunes, as well as quartet tracks.

“I’m really happy and proud to be an Arbors Records artist,” Figueiredo wrote via email from Brazil. “I love working with Rachel. She gives great support, besides being a wonderful person. I want to continue my work with Rachel for many, many years.” DB

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