Orenda Records Highlights Angel City Fest

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Daniel Rosenboom, founder of Orenda Records, performs at the Angel City Jazz Festival.

(Photo: Eron Rauch)

Entering its 13th year, the Angel City Jazz Festival has become a regular October institution in Los Angeles, a first-rate sampling of some of the most adventurous music on the jazz spectrum from among the best creative improvisers and composers in the world, fulfilling festival creator Rocco Somazzi’s vision of bringing that experience to this city.

This year’s lineup included appearances by international luminaries such as Myra Melford, Elliott Sharp and Jamie Baum. But it has always been a priority for Somazzi to shine a spotlight on talent from the West side of the country, and many local artists unknown to virtually anyone outside of Los Angeles — and even within the city — have received opportunities to showcase their abilities. And for those artists, there is perhaps no greater advocate for their success than trumpeter Daniel Rosenboom, founder of the L.A.-based label Orenda Records.

Somazzi, recognizing this, decided to enlist Rosenboom as a co-presenter this year, dedicating an entire evening to a five-set celebration of Orenda. “I’m a big fan of [Rosenboom’s] music,” said Somazzi, over coffee in Northridge a few days later. “He’s one of those musicians who was not just interested in playing — he was interested in having a partnership where he could contribute beyond his field. He always thinks beyond the simple presenter-musician relationship.”

Even Somazzi admits that watching multiple sets of experimental jazz can take its toll on an audience. It’s why he eventually changed his format from a single all-day event to the current programming of multiple-evening double-bill shows. Still, having an actual “big day” festival was alluring to the promoter, “but I couldn’t do it by myself, so we proposed that to Orenda,” he explained.

Leading off the evening at the two-stage venue 2220 Arts and Archives near the Echo Park district of L.A. was a big band led by trombonist Jon Hatamiya. His innovative large-ensemble writing included pieces for two electric guitarists and two bass trombones, as well as a ballad that featured a woodwind section of all alto saxophones. Next was the chamber group Bridge to Everywhere, an all-world-music ensemble with strings, percussion and a multi-purposeful performer in one Neelamjit Dhillon who played alto saxophone, bansuri flute and some stunning vocalizations of Hindustani rhythms.

Pianist Cathlene Pineda’s original quartet music (featuring trumpeter Kris Tiner) demonstrated a level of expressiveness and empathy that reflects the group’s long working friendship, while guitarist Alexander Noice’s performance-art sextet threatened to send the entire audience to the ER with bleeding eardrums and blown minds. The finale featured the founder himself on trumpet, in a quartet with pianist Joshua White, bassist Richard Giddens and drummer Mark Ferber, deftly slicing through rhythmically challenging originals and free-improv as if they were one and the same.

Rosenboom, a well-trained classical trumpeter, is one of the first-call session players for the sprawling L.A. entertainment industry. It’s one of the more lucrative jobs a gigging musician can have. “I feel very fortunate to be able to work in the Hollywood studios,” Rosenboom offered, “because it affords me the opportunity to fund a lot of this creative experimentation in a way that I don’t think a lot of artists get the opportunity to do.”

The morning after the show, Rosenboom sat for an interview in his converted garage studio in a modest home in a nice neighborhood of Long Beach. Even in this overpriced housing market, he likely could afford to live a more upscale lifestyle if he hadn’t, for years, been reinvesting his income into keeping Orenda afloat. “Our operating budget is basically zero,” he said matter-of-factly. Despite that proclamation, somehow Orenda has churned out 92 records, rapidly approaching 100 releases in just its seventh year of existence.

While his pedigree is in classical music, Rosenboom is an avid fan of all kinds of music from atonal to metal, and his label reflects that eclecticism. “These are all artists who have interesting visions, that I feel are connected via community and a like-minded approach to making music in the modern era, which is much less defined by genre or boundaries of style, and much more fluid in terms of the way that it assimilates influences from all of our listening experience,” he said about who ultimately ends up on Orenda.

It is significant that three of the five bandleaders, and many of the artists in every group [as well as the author of this article] share a connection to California Institute of the Arts, the school founded by Walt Disney and a fertile breeding ground for Pixar. In contrast to the animation department, the music school has always shied away from such direct vocational aspirations, choosing instead to encourage making music in as pure an art form as possible. Rosenboom’s father, David, just retired last year as the long-time dean of the School of Music at CalArts, telling his son that night he remembered the graduations of so many who performed.

Rosenboom is quick to point out that there are many artists on his label who are not even from the United States, let alone the school he graduated from, but he nevertheless acknowledges the philosophical influence. “CalArts really embraces an open mindset about what music can be,” he affirmed. “And a lot of the people I went to school with ended up staying around Los Angeles after school, so we continued to work together and create projects. What’s been amazing to see in the growth of the label is that sense of community spreading its tendrils out … to me that’s the most interesting part of what the label does. Really that’s what we’re all here for — connecting people and connecting with people.” Rosenboom knows what it is like for independent musicians to try to foster their own creations. “It was like they were on their own little island with a megaphone saying, ‘Hey, we’re doing something over here.’ My thought was if we could just put everyone on the same island, then people would see that there’s something happening over there.” And thus far, he has backed up his commitment to this hidden Los Angeles art-music community with his own money, time and a lot of effort.

“I feel he has the most impressive work ethic I’ve ever seen,” Somazzi said. “The label itself is a testament to his abilities and organizational skills. I know it’s an uphill battle, but instead of backing down, he just does more and more.” DB



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