Fresh Sound at 40


Jordi Pujol has made it happen, little by little, for the past 40 years at Fresh Sound New Talent.

(Photo: Joan Carles Abelenda)

Fresh Sound New Talent is enjoying a pair of impressive anniversary celebrations. The original Fresh Sound label turns 40 later this year, while FSNT just reached its 30th birthday.

Both outlets were created by Jordi Pujol in Barcelona, who launched Fresh Sound in August 1983, initially concerned with reissuing his most treasured albums of the 1950s. Many of these had fallen out of catalog, existing only as deleted original vinyl. It was the sound of West Coast jazz that most captivated Pujol, and the urge was strong to make these old California vinyl classics available on compact disc. In 1984, Pujol made his first trip to Los Angeles, effectively in search of the Holy Grail. “When I first went to L.A., I was very young,” he recalls. “It was my first trip. My English is still not good, but at that time it was even worse. It was difficult for me to be in contact with people, but I had good friends Dave Pell and Bob Keane that helped me a lot, introducing me to my idols Marty Paich, Bill Holman and Shorty Rogers.”

Pujol recalls that around that time it was mostly the Japanese labels that were reissuing 1950s West Coast jazz classics (although Boplicity, a sub-label of Ace Records, was also busy exhuming LPs by Chet Baker, Shelly Manne, Curtis Counce, Buddy Collette and more in the mid-1980s in London). “To reissue those kind of records was my passion because many of them were not available since their first release.”

Pujol got to know producers including Gene Norman, David Axelrod, Dick Bock, and Dootsie Williams, and made connections with Bethlehem Records. Pujol’s father was also a jazz fan, so there was an abundance of Tommy Dorsey and Les Brown around the house as well as Duke Ellington and Count Basie.

Since that first jaunt, Pujol has tried to ensure that he returns to L.A. annually in search of the next wave of players. Even though Fresh Sound was primarily a reissue label, he recorded The Dave Pell Octet Plays Again, in a move that heralded the creation of New Talent in 1992. Pell was already a veteran saxophonist, but this new label outgrowth set out to produce original albums by emerging artists.

Fresh Sound New Talent elected to concentrate on rising stars, with many of its early acts now decidedly risen. The Bad Plus released its debut on FSNT, and Brad Mehldau recorded three discs before signing to Warner Bros. When Pujol also began stopping off in New York, he was hanging out in the early Smalls club, winkling out players who were then bordering on the obscure.

“Sometimes you don’t know why you start doing something in one way, or not. As soon as I started to meet musicians in L.A., I recorded them, all the [1950s] West Coast players who were still playing.” Pujol also began recording in Barcelona as early as 1987, with multiple sessions by pianist Tete Montoliu.

“I like things to happen little by little, coming naturally,” Pujol said. “In the beginning there were very few records [on FSNT]. From ’92 to ’96, we made maybe 15 records. After ’96 the label started to have a more regular production every year. Now we have almost 700 releases.”

Pujol appreciates it when players interact with each other, a leader on one album becoming a side person on another, with differing line-up permutations. He’s guided completely by his own taste, his instinct for fine performances. Pujol recently discovered a particular London scene that impressed him, culminating in a specially commissioned album to celebrate three decades of New Talent. Saxophonist Alex Merritt (actually living in Bristol) was entrusted with the mission to build the Fresh Sound Ensemble, which includes fellow saxophonist Alex Hitchcock, trumpeter Steve Fishwick and bassist Conor Chaplin in its 11-piece roster. The resultant album was Common Threads, released right at the end of 2022. Pujol had already brought out solo albums by many of the players involved, so he already knew where they stood musically.

The FSNT roster is highly diverse, with a surprising presence of some stylistically wide-ranging artists, including Ambrose Akinmusire, Kris Davis, Ari Hoenig, Gerald Cleaver, Bill McHenry, Logan Richardson and Kirk Knuffke. Some even more out-there favorites in the last decade include albums by Mara Rosenbloom, Jesse Stacken and Peter van Huffel’s Boom Crane. More recent winners include discs by Spanish drummer Iago Fernández (Luzada) and South Korean bassist Jeong Lim Yang (Zodiac Suite: Reassured).

Whatever the sound, Pujol remains a dynamic crusader in modern music as well as a dedicated preserver of old, swingin’ California beach party soundtracks. DB

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