Artist-Owned GSI Fosters Creative Freedom


Drummer Eric Harland teamed with tenor saxophonist Daniel Rovin and bassist Austin White to found the label GSI Records.

(Photo: Courtesy of Artist)

One of the more intriguing new labels of 2018 is GSI Records, co-owned by drummer Eric Harland, tenor saxophonist Daniel Rovin and bassist Austin White. This year, the label has issued vocalist Sachal Vasandani’s Shadow Train (featuring Harland, pianist Taylor Eigsti and bassist Reuben Rogers) as well as two digital releases. One is 13th Floor, by Harland’s Voyager group, with Walter Smith III on saxophones, Eigsti on piano, and Harish Raghavan on bass.

The other is Live In Manhattan, on which a star-studded collective reimagines, track by track, John Coltrane’s classic album Live In Seattle (which was recorded in 1965 and posthumously released in 1971). Chris Potter and Rovin channel Coltrane and Pharoah Sanders, respectively; Eigsti refracts McCoy Tyner; bassists Larry Grenadier and White impart the gravitas of Jimmy Garrison and Donald Raphael Garrett; and Harland uncorks roiling refractions of Elvin Jones.

GSI’s 2019 docket includes a summer release by Eigsti titled Tree Falls In A Forest, with Harland, vocalists Becca Stevens and Gretchen Parlato, and electric bassist David “DJ” Ginyard; and a yet-to-be recorded album by Raghavan with a group that features rising stars Joel Ross on vibraphone and Jeremy Dutton on drums.

The three GSI owners share an intertwined history. Several years ago, after Rovin had dropped out of the jazz program at The New School and was working as server at Manhattan’s Jazz Standard, he met Harland, who was performing with multiple bands. They developed a friendship. Meanwhile, Rovin and White—childhood friends from Greenville, South Carolina—were lauching a commercial recording studio. Harland started coming by to hang out, then to play. He became a partner after Rovin and White received an endowment to build a new, expanded studio on Manhattan’s West 29th Street, where their clients have included rising star pianist James Francies, who used GSI Studios to record his acclaimed Blue Note debut, Flight.

“We’ve become a family,” Harland said, regarding his musical/business partners. “It’s a good melding of minds. For me, having the label lets me further my vision, to get what I’d like to hear into the world.”

Harland referenced the Live in Manhattan project, which was recorded concert-style, without rehearsal, before a studio audience. “Who wouldn’t want to hear Chris try to play like Trane? We both love Coltrane so much. When I was 16, I’d practice to A Love Supreme every day when I came home from school, and Live In Seattle was transformative when I was in college. There were moments on it when I honestly felt like Trane was communicating with aliens.”

Rovin also deeply valued the experience of recording Live In Manhattan: “I saw the Coltrane project as a perfect template to start exploring the idea of combining the somewhat avant-garde with super high-end modern jazz guys like Eric, Chris and Taylor, who don’t often get documented exploring these soundscapes. Overall, we’re trying to build a community of like-minded people and give them freedom to make the records they want to make.”

Harland cosigned the remark, describing GSI Studios as “a community where musicians can come in and just play.” As an example, he mentioned a spontaneous three-hour recording he made with Smith and keyboardist Big Yuki; another session with himself and fellow Houstonians Francies and pianist Jason Moran; and the possibility of licensing live recordings of various projects he’s done at the Jazz Standard.

Also in GSI’s pipeline is a group of vintage recordings from the private archives of veteran bassist Reggie Workman, who taught and mentored White at the New School. The treasures include a 1960s club date with singer Abbey Lincoln, pianist Cedar Walton and drummer Jack DeJohnette, as well as a broadcast of the Billy Taylor Trio from the iconic Hickory House on 52nd Street.

“For everything we’re releasing, we’re doing interviews with Reggie,” Rovin said. “We’re still trying to figure out the best format. We’re just a bunch of musicians trying to figure out how to get this music into people’s ears.”

For more info on GSI Studios, click here. DB

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