[Zombies] Thirsty Ear/MBM Article In Boston Globe

Digital::Nimbus info at digitalnimbus.com
Fri May 27 11:49:12 EDT 2005

One of our fellow Zombies at the MEATBEATTOUR.com
forum posted the following; it's a good read..

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Thirsty Ear/MBM Article In Boston Globe

Genre bender
A small Connecticut label is creating a new kind of music. But is anybody
By Steve Greenlee, Globe Staff  |  May 27, 2005

NORWALK, Conn. -- On a narrow one-way street crammed with auto repair shops,
in a 

squat building with a sign out front that says ''Bartoli Electric Co.," a
music revolution is 

taking place.

In this unlikeliest of locations, a small label called Thirsty Ear Records
has been 

creating for the past three years a new kind of music that bridges the
worlds of jazz, 

electronica, and hip-hop. Though the label has brought in a roster of
respected artists 

from several different genres, the direction of this music is largely the
vision of two 

people -- the label's owner and head, 53-year-old Peter Gordon, and the

jazz pianist Matthew Shipp, who is 45.

Gordon, who works in a small, wood-paneled office on the first floor (which
Thirsty Ear 

shares with Bartoli, an electrical contractor), and Shipp, who works mostly
from his 

apartment in New York, are at the vanguard of the freshest movement in jazz

the fusion of the 1970s. Since 2002, they have brought together such
disparate artists 

as hip-hop's DJ Spooky and Antipop Consortium, electronica's DJ Wally and
Meat Beat 

Manifesto, and jazz musicians such as bassist William Parker and saxophonist
David S. 

Ware. The result has been album after album of music that blends elements of

genre but sounds like something entirely new. And yet there is such a
continuity of 

concept -- and such consistent quality -- that it is no stretch to say there
is a Thirsty 

Ear sound.

The question is whether anyone is listening. When Miles Davis released his

''Bitches Brew" in 1969, it roared into the jazz and rock worlds, and fusion

supergroups like Weather Report and Return to Forever were soon born. In

jazz-electronica -- some call it jazztronica -- hasn't found the same
success. The most 

popular Thirsty Ear albums have sold 30,000 copies; some have sold only
1,000. Jazz 

radio stations don't play the music. Neither do pop or hip-hop stations.

''We're not your prototypical jazz label, nor are we your hip-hop label or

electronica label," Gordon says. ''You could say we're in a crack. Or you
could say we're 

creating our own crack."

A Blue mood
The story of Thirsty Ear goes back to 1977, when Gordon started the company
in New 

York to market alternative music. It eventually became a record label in
1990. In the 

'90s, Thirsty Ear also managed 2.13.61, the label owned by Henry Rollins,
the punk 

rocker and spoken-word performance artist. Rollins released Shipp's 1996
album ''2-Z" 

on 2.13.61 (the label is named for Rollins's birthdate). That was Gordon's

to the avant-garde jazz scene. Shipp recorded his next album for Thirsty Ear
and then 

flirted with the idea of giving up recording altogether in order to
concentrate on 

performing. He changed his mind when Gordon proposed creating the Blue
Series for 

avant-garde jazz, and asked Shipp to be its artistic director.

The first album in the Blue Series was Shipp's ''Pastoral Composure" from
2000, a 

beautiful quartet record that in no way signaled what was to come. Two years

around the time Gordon moved Thirsty Ear to Norwalk so he could be closer to

the shift began. In 2002 Thirsty Ear released Shipp's ''Nu Bop," and it
should have 

struck the jazz world with as much force as ''Bitches Brew" did, except that
Miles Davis 

recorded for Columbia, a major label. ''Nu Bop" was jarring -- Shipp's
thick, attacking 

chords against a backdrop of beats created by the producer FLAM. It was the
first shot 

in the jazztronica movement, and artists such as guitarist John Scofield,
pianist Uri 

Caine, and trumpeter Dave Douglas soon offered projects in the same vein.

In the three intervening years, mainstream artists have returned to form,

the electronics as quickly as they picked them up. But Thirsty Ear has

releasing enough albums on its own -- eight to 10 a year -- to fill its own

Shipp teamed up with a popular hip-hop duo for the wild album ''Antipop vs.

Shipp. DJ Spooky worked with Shipp's circle of musicians to cut and paste
his way to 

one of the most rewarding listens of 2002, ''Optometry." The guitarist
Charlie Hunter 

and the drummer Bobby Previte have joined forces as Groundtruther,

electronic textures into their jazz-rock enterprise. The British noise-rock
outfit Spring 

Heel Jack has gathered large ensembles of avant-garde jazzers for a series
of albums.

The most fully realized project yet in the Blue Series marriage of jazz and

arrives in stores on Tuesday from Meat Beat Manifesto. Jack Dangers, the man

Meat Beat Manifesto, is a sound sculptor who creates albums from samples,

original music, and spoken words. He also plays bass and reeds and has long

interested in jazz. He approached Thirsty Ear about doing an album after

some of the discs in the Blue Series.

''I liked the approach they were using with jazz and electronic music,"
Dangers says 

from his home in San Francisco. ''I dug what they were doing, and they had
heard of 

me and liked what I did, so they were into it straight away."

Dangers says ''At the Center" is his most musical record, mostly because he
was able 

to work with accomplished jazz musicians, who included drummer Dave King of
the Bad 

Plus, the keyboardist Craig Taborn, and Gordon himself, who plays flute.
Although the 

music sounds organic, Dangers was never in the studio with the musicians.

they recorded in New York, and Dangers worked in San Francisco. Computer
files were 

shipped back and forth, as Dangers edited and manipulated the recordings he 

received, and Gordon offered his own ideas. ''It was completely

Dangers says. ''Between the two of us, it just kept going through a process
of filtering 

and editing."

'A discovery label'
Whether the album will sell -- or be played on the radio -- is an open
question. ''At the 

Center," like everything else Thirsty Ear issues, is challenging music that
does not lend 

itself to the pop single or the jazz tune. In truth, it's not pop, it's not
electronica, and 

it's not jazz, and this is where the trouble lies.

''The problem with the way we listen to music is it's genre-based," Gordon

''When you attempt what we're doing, you fly in the face of quick
definition, and then 

you're not in anyone's comfort zone. Genres to us have been a stumbling
block." He 

continues: ''I've been in alternative music for 20 years, and we needed to
find a new 

alternative. Alternative wasn't alternative anymore. It becomes
institutionalized. The 

only way to do that was to find a new vein to tap."

Critics seem to like just about everything Thirsty Ear produces. At the same
time, no 

one is exactly surprised that radio stations aren't playing it and that, in
turn, the 

records aren't huge sellers.

''There's no place on the radio for it," says Jason Koransky, editor of the
jazz magazine 

Down Beat. ''Radio is stale. This is something you're going to hear on a
college radio 

station or Internet radio. Jazz radio drives you crazy."

That being the case, one wonders how long jazztronica will be with us,
particularly as 

the mainstream labels abandon it and only independents stick with it. Right

Thirsty Ear is the only label consistently producing this brand of music.

Shipp sees signs that it is resonating with fans and bringing younger
listeners into 

jazz. He notes that a 17-year-old recently asked him to sign a copy of the
disc he did 

with Antipop Consortium. ''I definitely know we're reaching a lot of
different people we 

wouldn't be able to reach if we were just doing straight jazz things," Shipp

Still, Gordon says he keeps Thirsty Ear's minimal impact on music in
perspective, and 

he says he doesn't worry much about sales. He's more interested in putting

music on the shelves.

''Are we going platinum? No. Are we going gold? No. Are we holding our

against other releases in this kind of alternative area? Absolutely," he
says. ''But we 

are a discovery label. You do have to discover us. We are a word-of-mouth
label. And 

we can't force ourselves down your throat. We just don't have those catchy
tunes to 

give you. We don't have singles. We basically completely defy the very
notion of what 

it is to be a record company. What we do have is some spark of originality

attracts people. We're doing it all wrong."

Steve Greenlee can be reached at greenlee at globe.com.
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