Newvelle Exemplifies the Art of the LP


Francisco Mela contributes Ancestros to the current season of Newvelle releases.

(Photo: Anna Yatskevich)

As collectible, multimedia art objects, few affordable things surpass the long-playing album. And few labels surpass Newvelle Records in carrying out a vision of how to record and package small-group jazz as complete works of art.

From the commissioned recording sessions, engineered by Marc Urselli at New York’s East Side Sound, to the distinctive cover art, poetic liner notes and bespoke, heavyweight slipcovers, Newvelle delivers on its promise of quality to subscribers. Each “season” of releases consists of six albums, mailed at two-month intervals.

In an era of streaming music that is, at best, ephemeral, Newvelle—operated by pianist Elan Mehler and Jean-Christophe Morisseau—is bucking the norm and delivering gorgeous collectors’ items to vinyl fanciers. At an annual subscription fee of $400 (plus shipping), the Newvelle sets are not inexpensive, but there’s no question that the value is high. And for its third season, Newvelle uses photography by the noted Polish artist Maciej Markowicz, known for his distinctive utilization of large, mobile camera obscuras, and prose by French author Ingrid Astier.

Guitarist Steve Cardenas leads off season three with Charlie & Paul, an LP of compositions by two of his former employers: Charlie Haden and Paul Motian. Drummer Matt Wilson, saxophonist Loren Stillman and bassist Thomas Morgan also have close ties to Haden and Motian, and the quartet warmly embraces the music. Stillman, who was a member of both Haden’s Liberation Music Orchestra and Motian’s On Broadway project, is especially moving.

Chicago saxophonist Andy Zimmerman follows with a drummerless quartet that includes trumpeter Dave Douglas, pianist Kevin Hays and bassist Matt Penman. Half Light includes a strikingly interesting set of 11 compositions, featuring Duke Ellington’s seldom-played “Sunset And The Mockingbird” (from The Queen’s Suite), Hermeto Pascoal’s “Montreux” and a song written by label head Mehler. Heavily weighted toward ballads, it offers a relatively rare opportunity to hear Douglas play with breathy tenderness.

For his Newvelle debut, Close Your Eyes, guitarist Lionel Loueke brings lithe chops and a musical sensibility tied to his childhood in Benin to a set of jazz standards like Wayne Shorter’s “Footprints” and John Coltrane’s “Naima.” On other artist’s recordings, Loueke often reverts to or is requested to play in his signature style. But exploring the nuances of familiar songs, he moves beyond the expected and reveals new sonic colors and textures. Longtime rhythm-section partners Reuben Rogers and Eric Harland provide equally creative shadings and powerful propulsion on “Blue Monk.”

Icelandic bassist Skúli Sverrisson and guitarist Bill Frisell sound like they were made to play together, combining exceptional harmonic depth and simpatico counterpoint on Strata. The bassist composed a number of the pieces with Frisell in mind, and they bring out the guitarist’s most creative aspects. Frisell has focused so much on Americana lately that it’s refreshing to hear him delve into expressively phrased music that does not come along with roots in blues or country.

Cuban drummer Francisco Mela brought his working band—pianist Kris Davis, bassist Gerald Cannon and saxophonist Hery Paz—to the studio for Ancestros, an album of free-leaning originals. A thorny player with an especially rich tone on bass clarinet, Paz has the ability to take his solos to unexpected places, which makes him an ideal partner for Davis’ unbridled imagination.

In December, Newvelle will wrap up the year with Fair Weather by Boston trumpeter Jason Palmer, with pianist Leo Genovese, bassist Joe Martin and drummer Kendrick Scott. The least adventurous of the six albums, Fair Weather also seems a bit under-rehearsed, with Genovese seeming like the odd man out in an otherwise-cohesive unit.

Newvelle’s business model means that some of the music it releases might one day be available on non-vinyl media when rights revert to the artists, but the attention to fine detail in this set makes it worthwhile for more than the music. DB

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