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June 2007 Archives

June 5, 2007

Welcome to

Hey there, welcome to Downbeast. Check in for the latest in avant-garde, improvisational jazz music rants, musings, reviews, and more. From Cryptogramophone Records, is a new music blog concept we hope you enjoy.

June 6, 2007

Why Downbeast?

Why Downbeast? Because we're tackling the beast of the music industry and pummeling it into submission. Downbeast is the home of music lovers, industry haters, and everyone in between. Heard a great CD or concert lately? Give us your review. Got an idea of where the industry is heading? Please share it with us. We've started a category entitled CD vs. Download, which I'm sure will spark some interest. Let's create a community with whom to share good music and good ideas. In the meantime, grab a whip and a chair, and let's tame the beast!

June 9, 2007

The last holiday season for CDs?

Last week I read that 2007 would probably be the last holiday season for CDs. With the loss of deep catalog stores like Tower, and the emergence of branded retailers like Starbucks, many smaller labels are worried that the only CDs available in stores will be mass marketed pop titles. I don't think we've quite arrived at that point yet, but with retail sales plummeting 20% per year, and downloads barely taking up the slack, what's an independent jazz label to do? About the only venues for selling independent jazz CDs would seem to be the label's website, artist sales, a few independent shops,, a few chain stores, and websites like,,,, and our own

While it may still be a few more years before brick and mortar sales diminish to the point of inviability, this doesn't mean that CDs or CD-like objects will disappear forever. Artists, fans and collectors still want them, and CDs are becoming less expensive to produce. However a change in perspective may be all that's required to find and develop new markets for physical sales. In the coming years, selling CDs may become more like selling water than selling widgets. Water is all around us and people can get it for free, but some folks will always pay a few extra bucks for fresh, clean, clear water in a bottle because someone convinced them it's better. We know our CDs offer greater value than downloads. Therefore it becomes our responsibility to educate people about this and point them to our website. People who download our music will probably appreciate the audiophile sound, beautiful packages, and great liner notes, and other goodies that come with the physical CDs. We just have to convince them of that.

Ultimately our job as a label is to represent our artists, and to actively seek-out an audience for their music. The musicians we represent create music on the edge, so they may never break through to the top tiers of media awareness. That means we must educate people about our artists through creative online marketing, and by word of mouth. If we can find, develop, and engage our audience, we can ask them to support our music directly by buying products from our websites. Pound for pound, direct sales can generate more income per unit than wholesale sales, and once we know who our customers are, we can continue to market to them directly. Together with downloads, direct CD sales can be a powerful way for independent jazz labels to make up diminishing brick and mortar sales.


June 11, 2007

Exclusive Preview of "The Nels Cline Singers Draw Breath"

We can finally see the horizon on Cryptogramophone's upcoming Summer 2007 releases: Spinning the Circle from pianist/Goatettee David Witham and The Nels Cline Singers Draw Breath from...oh, you know. The drop date for both is JUNE 26th.

With barely two weeks left, we've already pre-released tracks from the new Nels Cline CD -- "Caved-in Heart Blues," "Mixed Message," "Recognize II" and "Confection" -- on Nels' MySpace page and the Crypto homesite. We also decided to get a jump on the reviewers and offer "pre-reviews" of both for your dining and dancing pleasure. [WARNING: Mixed metaphors will be used]

Continue reading "Exclusive Preview of "The Nels Cline Singers Draw Breath"" »

June 13, 2007

Who's your daddy?

In the good old days, record labels were the sugar daddies of the music business. Jazz musicians loved and hated them all at once. They not only assumed that labels were making oodles of money off of their talent, but that they were slipping it to them sideways at the same time. All this may have been true – in the good old days. These days most major labels have jettisoned their jazz imprints, and unless they’ve got a huge star, a huge catalog, or a huge bank account, most indie jazz labels are artist owned, and struggling.

Every business involves risk. If you’re smart you find a business where the risks are few and the benefits are great. If you’re not so smart, you go into the record business. It has always been assumed that since record companies were making so much money, they should take all of the risk. They should not only pay for the recording, production, manufacturing, promotion, tour support, publishing and mechanicals, they should pay a nice fat artist fee - in advance - and give the artist a piece of the action on the back end as well. Oh, and artists should retain all publishing and all other rights worldwide, at all times, in perpetuity. Seems pretty fair to me.

But what if there are no profits? What if masters will be losing instead of gaining value over time? In a world where CD sales are diminishing by 20% per year and downloads haven’t come close to taking up the slack, many jazz labels are struggling just to break even. If most new commercially available jazz CDs sell between 600-1500 units, and the average break-even point is somewhere around 3000 units, how can independent jazz labels survive, let alone take chances on edgy or unknown artists?

So, here's a thought. What if the process of making CDs could be approached as a partnership? What if the artist and the label could agree to work together toward creative solutions where both sides are taking equal risks? Granted, artistic risk is real, and should be factored into any given situation. But the real world has shown that mediocrity outperforms artistic risk nine times out of ten...and of course 86% of all statistics are completely made up.

There has to be something in between the label as pimp, and the label provider, where artists have to pay to play. Yes, there are contracts and lawyers, and record deals, all intended to protect everyone's interests. But there are also ways of working together that acknowledge that artists can’t have careers without record labels, and record labels can’t have record labels without artists.

When I was thinking about starting a jazz label ten years ago, I wrote my friend Ed Michel, producer of a few notable musicians (John Coltrane, Thelonius Monk, Billie Holiday, Andrew Hill, Keith Jarrett, etc.), and asked if he had any advice. He wrote back, “I recommend you become a heroin addict instead. It will be more fun, you’ll spend less money, and you’ll be dealing with a better class of people.” I never took his advice, but I now understand what he meant. I’m just surprised my friends and family haven’t arranged an intervention yet.

I’m very lucky that most of the artists I work with believe that as a producer and label owner, I’m working as hard as I can to get their music into the world, and that the job is getting more difficult and less lucrative as time goes by. I think that’s why for the most part, these artists are willing to work with me to make the whole process more creative and cooperative, and to share some of the risk when it is appropriate and fair.

You see, at the end of the day, musicians and record labels share the same addiction. And, that's one of the reasons CDs will survive a little while least until a better drug comes along.

Exclusive Preview of David Witham's "Spinning The Circle"

With just fifteen -- no, make that FOURTEEN -- days to go before we double-drop our twin Crypto summer releases The Nels Cline Singers Draw Breath and David Witham's Spinning the Circle, we're offering a little preview of each for your audiophilic interest.


Continue reading "Exclusive Preview of David Witham's "Spinning The Circle"" »

June 15, 2007

Andrew Hill and Alexandra Montano

This has been a difficult time at Cryptogramophone. In the last month we lost two great artists who touched our lives and impacted the world of music; Andrew Hill and Alexandra Montano. To read Nels Cline's remembrance of Andrew Hill, please visit his website at

I had the good fortune of knowing French vocalist Alexandra Montano a little bit, although I now wish I had known her better. I first met Alexandra at the sessions for Mark Dresser and Denman Maroney’s 2005 Cryptogramophone recording Time Changes. The sessions took place at Michael Brorby’s studio in Brooklyn. I walked in and the first thing I noticed was Alexandra on the floor doing yoga and vocalizing. Once the rehearsals started, I was amazed at how well this talented singer negotiated Mark and Denman’s incredibly difficult music. This is music that sometimes changes meter every other bar, and often has instruments playing in different meters at the same time. The quality of Alexandra's voice, her musicianship, and her sense of pitch were outstanding. Then I heard her improvise, and wondered why I had never heard of her before. As it turns out she was quite well known in the world of contemporary classical music, but she could improvise jazz almost instinctively. She was a joy to work with, and was a consummate professional. She was also a dedicated parent. I remember her talking with Mark about her teenage son, always interested in a man’s perspective on the problems of raising a teenager.

About nine months ago, Alexandra was diagnosed with a brain tumor. What a shock. It seemed inconceivable that someone so alive and talented could be given a diagnosis like that. She fought bravely, but ultimately succumbed to the disease last week. Our condolences go out to her family and friends who supported her to the end. If you’ve never heard Alexandra Montano’s music, I recommend you check out her website at, and also check out the first MP3 on Mark Dresser/Denman Maroney’s CD Time Changes at Alexandra was a talented musician, and a beautiful soul. She will be deeply missed.

June 18, 2007

A new venue for Cryptonight?

The time has come to start a discussion on when and where Cryptonight can rise from the ashes of the quirky and mostly wonderful Club Tropical. We had a nice run there, and it would be a shame to let any momentum that was built over the course of those three years disappear into the ether.

So, where might that venue be? We have yet to find that serendipitous combination of location, understanding, and vibe that we had at the most unlikely of places - a Salvadorian restaurant in Culver City.


First, the issue of location. We'd like to keep the series located on the west side of town for a few reasons. Cryptogramophone's HQ is located there, a lot of the musicians that are involved with the series live out this way, it's close to the airport for artists that are coming from out of town to play, and there's nothing like it going on in this part of town, at least to my knowlege. I realise that our audience base is small, but it seems like a city as large as Los Angeles should be able to support a few places to play new music. There are small theaters to consider, but the proposition of having to rent such a space would probably be cost-prohibitive. A lot of restaurants already have clientele that may or may not be receptive to what we're doing. Since running a restaurant is as tenuous as running a concert series, I can understand reluctance on an owner's part to turn over their place to someone else one night a week. Another suggestion has been to utilize different venues as they become available, but I'm afraid that the audience won't move with the show. Given all of that, maybe a non-traditional venue is the way to go. House concerts have risen in popularity in the last decade. Maybe we can find a patron of the arts that has a house large enough to facilitate something like this. It presents listeners an opportunity to hear music in an intimate and comfortable setting.

Then, there's the issue of understanding. Carlos (the proprietor of Club T) may not have liked every ensemble that passed through his doors, but he understood that we were serious about what we were doing, and gave us the opportunity to continue. By doing that, I think he was rewarded too, by our audience that came every Thursday to eat and drink, as well as listen.

Vibe is an important element in all of this, too. Club T was a nutty place - wild colors on the walls, a statue on the bandstand (I named her the Goddess of Liquid Refreshment), a crazy lighting rig, and a wooden dance floor that proved to be one of the key elements. It provided the foundation of the warm sound of the room. People spend thousands of dollars equipping their clubs for live music and don't come close to a sound like we had. This all proved attractive, both to musicians and patrons.
Plus, the wait staff were very friendly and respectful. That helps a lot.

We caught lightning in a jar at this place and kept it there for three years...who's to say we can't do it again. If anyone who reads this has any ideas or suggestions for a venue, PLEASE share them with us.

June 20, 2007

"MAKIN' A RACKET": An Exclusive Interview with David Witham, Pt. I

David Witham is a monster musician—and we mean not just his in-demand chops but the fact that the guy is around 6' 6'' with a big booming voice, linebacker’s gait and ham-sized hands that can lightly caress the 88 keys on a piano and then crush a metal napkin dispenser.


Continue reading ""MAKIN' A RACKET": An Exclusive Interview with David Witham, Pt. I" »

June 23, 2007

Nels Cline From the Road

I am happy to say that the official release date for the new Singers disc on Cryptogramophone, DRAW BREATH, is nearly upon us. I am out here on the road with Wilco at the time of this writing, and Moday, those who attend our show in New York will been able to buy this rather attractive and multi-faceted document a day before the official release date of June 26th.

The CD package is adorned with artwork by painter Angela DeCristofaro, most of it done just for this release. I suggest that you visit her website ( to see and learn more. As for the music, it's the usual mix of loud, soft, structured, free, trad, avant... There are two pieces on which I play acoustic steel-string guitar only, which is a bit of a departure for The Singers. It is rather amusing to me to note how many people are surprised to learn that I play acoustic guitar, but these people knew nothing of my efforts in the eighties with Quartet Music and the like. They were barely even born! But I actually played MOSTLY acoustic guitars in those days. Weird! Anyway, Devin Hoff and Scott Amendola do their usual cogent-verging-on-visionary contributions (OK, I like my band!), and Glenn Kotche, best known as the octopus-like tubsman in Wilco, adds a panoply of sonic wonders to the last piece on the disc. Thanks, Glenn!

I want to thank my pal and constant enabler Jeff Gauthier for continuing to release this music at a time when it is such a blatantly quixotic (read:insane) endeavor. His support and commitment to the music and artists he cares about is non pareil in the extreme. And I encourage all of you out there to continue to seek out non-pop expressions such as ours and, if you dig it, to support it. Maybe buy a CD! These Cryptogramophone ones look really cool! And they sound good, too...

Some people are wondering when/if The Singers will come to their town on tour in support of DRAW BREATH. In light of all the touring I am doing to support the new Wilco record, coupled with the financial unfeasablility of such ventures these days, it might be awhile before a Singers tour can be mounted. Devin has also joined Oakland band Xiu Xiu and will tour extensively with THEM next year. But the desire is there. Don't rule it out! In the meantime, we will be trying to squeeze in as many little gigs this year as we can.

OK, it's almost time to hear another set by one of the best bands ever in this land, Low. And if you like connecting the dots as much as I do, check out their influence on my music as represented on the three Singers discs (all on Crypto) - it's there.
By the way, for all you guitar geeks out there, I am adding a list of all the guitars I played on DRAW BREATH, but I am not going to tell you where I used them.
Love to all, N

6/20/07 Charlotte, NC

Guitar Geeks - click below...

Continue reading "Nels Cline From the Road" »

June 25, 2007

“LIGHT AT NIGHT”: An Exclusive Crypto Interview with David Witham, Pt. 2


Spinning The Circle, David Witham’s second solo album since 1988’s self-released On-Line, shows the pianist’s versatility with jazz, world beat, and jamband influenced originals—from the breakbeat electronica of "The Neon" to the gentle balladry of "Who Knows." But he brings some heavy-hitters along for the ride. “My associations with the members of this ensemble span the last thirty-some years, basically the course of my musical career thus far,” Witham writes in the liner notes. They include guitarist Nels Cline and drummer Scott Amendola are both on board, as are pedal steel guitarist (and frequent Bill Frisell collaborator) Greg Leisz, bassist Jay Anderson, woodwind player Jon Crosse, and percussionist Luis Conte.

Continue reading "“LIGHT AT NIGHT”: An Exclusive Crypto Interview with David Witham, Pt. 2" »

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Adam Rudolph Alex Cline's Band of the Moment Alex Cline; Nels Cline: Alex & Nels Cline; Downbeat; Continuation; Coward Alma Lisa Fernandez Angel City Jazz Festival 2009 Angel City Jazz Festival 2009 Live Review (Day 1) Angel City Jazz Festival 2009 Live Review (Day 2) Angel City Jazz Festival 2009 Photos Antonio Sanchez avant-garde Ben Goldberg Bennie Maupin Bennie Maupin & Dolphyana Bill Stewart Billy Childs Jazz-Chamber Ensemble Billy Corgan Billy Hart Bob Sheppard California Jazz Foundation Cameron Graves Captain Beefheart & The Magic Band Carol Robbins Charles Mingus; Son of Watts Musical Caravan Project; Azar Lawrence; Nate Morgan; Henry Franklin; Alphonse Mouzon; Prayer for My Ancestors Charles Owens Chops: The Movie Chris Barton Cryptogramophone Records Cryptonight Darek Oles Dave Douglas Brass Ecstasy David Anderson Pianos David Witham Denman Maroney Devin Hoff Double M Jazz Salon Downbeat 57th Annual Critics Poll Dwight Trible Eagle Rock Center for the Arts Eclipse Quartet Edward Vesala Electric Lodge Eric Dolphy Eric Von Essen First Friday Series at the Museum of Neon Art G.E. Stinson Global Village Monday with Maggie LePique Go: Organic Orchestra Gravitas Quartet Greater St. Louis Jazz Festival; Peter Erskine Greg Kot Gregg Bendian Hale Smith Hannah Rothschild Hans Fjellstad Harry Partch; L.A. Weekly; John Schneider; REDCAT Horace Tapscott; Horace Tapscott Tribute Concert; Pan Afrikan Peoples Arkestra; the Ark; Jazz Bakery; Ruth Price; Jesse Sharps; Austin Peralta; Isaac Smith Huffington Post Hugh Hopper Ikeda Kings Orchestra improvisation Initiate Ivan Cotton James Newton Jason Robinson Jay Bennett Jay Hoggard jazz Jazz at the Plgrimage Jazz Bakery Jazz Explosion III Jazz Journey with Eddie B. Jeff Gauthier Jeff Tweedy Jesse Sharps Jim Black Joe Zawinul John "Drumbo" French John Fumo Kamasi Washington Ken Coomer Ken Kawamura KJAZZ 88.1-FM KPFK 90.7-FM KXLU 88.9-FM Larry Goldings Larry Karush Larry Koonse Learning How To Die Leimert Park: The Roots and Branches of L.A. Jazz Les Paul Lester Bowie Lily Burk Memorial Live at the Atelier Los Angeles New Music Ensemble Los Angeles Times Luis Bonilla Maggie Parkins Marcus Rojas Mark Dresser Mark Zaleski Mel Morris Michael Davis Miguel Atwood-Ferguson Mimi Melnick Motoko Honda Museum of Neon Art Museum of Neon Art; MONA; Many Axes; Susan Rawcliffe; Scott Wilkinson; Brad Dutz music blog Myra Melford Nasheet Waits Natsuki Tamura Nels Cline Nels Cline Singers Nels Cline Singers with Jeff Parker Nestor Torres Nick Rosen OC Creative Music Collective Oguri Open Gate Theatre Sunday Concert Series Pannonica Rothschild Peggy Lee Peter Bernstein plays monk Rashied Ali ResBox at the Steve Allen Theater RISE with Mark Maxwell Roberto Miranda Rod Poole Ron MIles Royal/T Cafe Sara Parkins Sara Schoenbeck Sarah Thornblade SASSAS Satoko Fujii Scott Amendola Scott Colley Sky Saxon Tribute Sonship Theus Spirit Moves Spirits in the Sky Steuart Liebig Terry Riley The Gathering The Jazz Baroness The JazzCat with Leroy Downs Thelonious Monk Thomas Stones Tom McNalley Trilogy Van Morrison; Astral Weeks; Scott Foundas; Jan Steward; Music Cirle; SASSAS Vincent Chancey Wayne Horvitz Wayne Peet Wilco Wilco; Nels Cline Wilco; Wilco (The Album); Nels Cline Will Salmon