Out Of Our Heads Releases Scuffed-Up But Exhilarating Music


Bassists Nick Dunston (left) and Michael Formanek, and reedist Anna Webber have released recordings on the new digital arm of the Out Of Your Head imprint.

(Photo: Gaya Feldheim-Schorr/Brian Cohen/TJ Huff)

​Given the travails of releasing jazz recordings in the 21st century, it’s easy to imagine the name “Out Of Your Head” deriving from the reactions of friends and family when bassist Adam Hopkins, drummer Scott Clark, and artists TJ Huff and Nick Prevas started the imprint in fall 2018.

In this case, Out Of Your Head originally was assigned to an improvised music collective that Hopkins cofounded in Baltimore during 2009. He brought it with him, first to the group’s Brooklyn chapter and finally to the label. Explains the bassist, who currently resides in Richmond, Virginia: “I thought it would be cool to curate the label in a similar way to how the collective operated, with a focus on the releases creating a little community of musicians.”

Recently, the label debuted three live recordings on a new, digital-only imprint, OOYH Untamed. “I would say that COVID sped up the process, but I had an idea for a digital-only side of the label since we started in October 2018,” Hopkins said. “For each OOYH release, we struggle with the decision as to what kind of physical [product] we should put out.”

The choice to go totally digital allows the label to turn releases around quickly, and take chances on strong but sonically scuffed-up performances like bassist Nick Dunston’s Atlantic Extraction: Live At Threes (Out Of Your Head U001; 48:13 ***). Drawn from a Feb. 26 concert at a Brooklyn brew pub, the set was captured on a cell phone. While it lacks the clarity and dynamic range of Dunston’s debut studio recording, which OOYH released in 2019, it ably presents the musician’s command of his mercurial compositions. The unconventionally configured quintet (strings, woodwinds, guitar, drums) nimbly shifts among stately chamber melodies, combative free passages and exhilarating steeplechases. The program is divided into two tracks (plus one bite-sized preview edit), which invites appreciation of the group’s management of these dynamic shifts. This recording is a bittersweet discovery, since the band is surely not going to play again anytime soon; Dunston recently moved to Berlin, saying he wanted to begin a new chapter in his life and career.

Rectangles (U002; 38:20 ****), by saxophonist Anna Webber, also was recorded with pocket-sized device. A Zoom recorder proved entirely adequate to document “Rectangles 3.” Webber originally wrote the tune for the Simple Trio, her old band with John Hollenbeck and Matt Mitchell. While the trio recorded three iterations of the piece, each less than two minutes long, they never played it live. So, in 2019, Webber assembled a quartet with pianist Marc Hannaford, drummer Mark Ferber and Hopkins on bass to play only “Rectangles 3.” After a dizzying, free introduction, the musicians give the piece’s asymmetrical groove a marathon workout. They repeat it, speed it up, slow it down and break it into component phrases, which in turn launch intricate solos and intense, collective improvisations. Once more, the chance to experience the totality of the music’s development overrides any caveats about the audio’s slightly in-the-red sizzle.

The Michael Formanek Quartet recorded Pre-Apocalyptic (U003; 66:10 ***1/2) in 2014. The group, which included alto saxophonist Tim Berne, pianist Craig Taborn, drummer Gerald Cleaver and Formanek on bass, already had made two albums for ECM and toured widely before recording this music in parts unknown, and many of its tunes will be familiar to fans of those records. The audio—muffled and lacking in high end—impedes appreciation more than on other releases. But the performances themselves will be essential listening for fans of the band. Berne sounds far more energized than he does in ECM studio settings, and the quartet’s nuanced performances of Formanek’s byzantine pieces attest to their road-tested rapport. DB

This story originally was published in the November 2020 issue of DownBeat. Subscribe here.

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