HatHut Returns to Vinyl with Sun Ra Arkestra Reissue


Sun Ra leads his Arkestra on the 1980 album Sunrise In Different Dimensions, which HatHut is reissuing on vinyl LP.

(Photo: DownBeat Archives)

Few people have followed jazz through more changes than Werner X. Uehlinger. Born in Switzerland in 1935, he first heard the music via U.S. military radio, and one of his earliest music purchases was a Charlie Parker record. He kept up with jazz’s permutations, and a chance encounter with multi-instrumentalist Joe McPhee motivated him to make the transition from fan to record label proprietor in 1975.

The first four releases for Uehlinger’s newfound label HatHut were McPhee LPs, but within a few years the label began issuing new music by saxophonists Steve Lacy and David Murray, pianist Cecil Taylor and keyboardist/bandleader Sun Ra. In the late ’80s the label switched from vinyl to CD. Now, the label is returning to its first format.

In recent years, HatHut issued jazz and new classical music under the hatOLOGY and hat[now]ART imprints, respectively. However, at the same time, CD sales have dropped dramatically (approximately 20 to 50 percent, depending on the artist). Newer artists have suffered the most, as Uehlinger explained. “Stores have had to close due to downloads,” he said. “This left fewer stores, and of these, not all are taking my product. Lesser known artists have no chance.”

So for the label’s first release on vinyl LP in 29 years, Uehlinger is sticking with a known entity—the Sun Ra Arkestra’s Sunrise In Different Dimensions (1980). “The return,” Uehlinger explained, “is a test to find out what kind of clientele I am reaching.”

A double-LP set, the reissue restores a number of cuts that didn’t fit onto the original CD reissue, and the records have been repackaged in an elaborate gatefold matchbook sleeve that restores the album’s original art. This is important; the early ’80s HatHut releases featured a distinct visual style, with bold fonts and a consistent design that accommodated striking original images.

Sunrise In Different Dimensions is a canny choice to test the waters. The 1980 concert recording captures the Arkestra at one of its peak moments. The tracks include Arkestral chestnuts such as “Silhouettes Of The Shadow World” and an exuberant, organ-dominated version of “Love In Outer Space.” But much of it is given over to a history of jazz, stretching from Jelly Roll Morton’s “King Porter Stomp” to Miles Davis’ “Half Nelson.”

By the late ’80s the Arkestra’s performances of such material could descend into schtick, but here the msuic is performed with the freshness of a band eager and able to reinvest itself. Ra is in fine form, administering tough love to “’Round Midnight” and tearing through Tadd Dameron’s “Lady Bird” at breakneck speed. The reissue is limited to 515 copies and is available now.

HatHut already has another, more ambitious project underway that will feature the first ever vinyl pressings of Albert Ayler recordings that until now have only been available on CD. “It will be a four-LP set including the concerts of Berlin, Lörrach, Paris and Stockholm from 1966, plus hopefully a DVD,” Uehlinger said. “The box will be in poplar wood with a laser design.”

There could be more. “Depending upon the success of the first two sets,” Uehlinger said, there will be “releases of unreleased recordings in my archive.”

The switch to vinyl reissues does not signal the end of the label’s association with CDs. HatHut has just released four of them: an earlier Ayler set, a reissue of guitarist Christy Doran’s In The Corner Of The Eye (which features contributions by trombonist Ray Anderson and cellist Hank Roberts), a duo recording with trombonist Roland Dahinden and pianist Hildegard Kleeb, and a concert set by saxophonist Ellery Eskelin’s trio with organist Gary Versace and drummer Gerry Hemingway, recorded at the Jazz Festival Willisau on Aug. 28, 2015. DB

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