Seth Rosner saw his mission clearly in 2000: After two years or so with the Knitting Factory, he wanted to start his own label that would put out the music he loved. More specifically, in the beginning, he wanted to record jazz iconoclast Henry Threadgill. Being a young man of skill and resolve, by 2002 he had recorded two albums by Mr. Threadgill.
He decided to call his record label Pi Recordings. Why Pi? In a recent phone interview he told this writer that, “I liked the idea that music is something that builds off of what was done previously. [Like the mathematical symbol for the number]…it should not repeat itself, and there should not be any discernible pattern, non-sequencing, yet has an overarching logic that we have yet to realize or discover.”
Thus, Pi was launched. After the first four releases, a like-minded man named Yulun Wang joined Mr. Rosner. The two have been making records of challenging music by some of the most forward-thinking artists of our time. 2012 was a great year for the label.
Here are the five releases by the label with brief commentary by Mr. Rosner:
Steve Lehman Trio “Dialect Fluorescent” - “[Alto saxophonist] Steve is a musical voice where composition and very personal style had dictated his previous output. It was very important for him to do an album in which half the tracks are tributes to the voices that informed him.” The tributes (to artists such as John Coltrane, Duke Pearson, and Jackie McLean) flow neatly with Mr. Lehman’s own singular style and make for a very listenable experience.
Henry Threadgill Zooid “Tomorrow Sunny/The Revelry,Spp – “I believe he’s one of the most important composers working today, and we’ll do whatever we have to do to document his music. He’s kept [Zooid] together for ten years, which is incredible these days.” Equally incredible is the unusual instrumentation Mr. Threadgill uses, with guitar, cello, and tuba sharing equal space with the leader’s woodwinds and a regular rhythm section of bass guitar and drums. It’s a fun album.
Hafez Modirzadeh “Post-Chromodal Out!” - It must be explained that on this challenging album, the composer uses Persian and Iraqi modes in which notes are found that fit “between” our Western tempered scale. Mr. Rosner: “On the West Coast, [Mr. Modrizadeh] didn’t find himself with a lot of attention…to continue to pursue his style of playing. [Pianist] Vijay [Iyer] had to figure out how to conquer and approach that music for the piano. It was a daunting task. It was obvious we wanted to be involved with that.” As daunting as the playing may have been, the surprise here is that the music is extremely listenable and quite enjoyable. It’s not a difficult listening experience in the least.
Sam Rivers/Dave Holland/Barry Altschul “Reunion: Live in New York” – As is obvious from the title, this is a reunion. But it’s a reunion of one of the iconic groups of improvisational music, the Sam Rivers Trio (Mr. Rivers on flute, tenor and soprano saxophone, and piano; Mr. Holland on bass; and Mr. Altschul on drums). “Yulun [Wang] was there [for the concert] in 2007. Mr. Rosner had gotten to know Mr. Rivers in 1999 at the Knitting Factory. He says, “The trio is what I thought of when I thought of Sam’s Seventies work, though they weren’t well documented. The reason they were so good was that rhythm section.” This, as the reader will see in this writer’s future articles, is a favorite.
David Virelles “Continuum” – “We’ve been talking to David for essentially two years. He’s a great example of a guy who shows up and very immediately puts his stamp on the music. Guys spend years, years, trying to find their place, and he comes in and fits in immediately. He’s touring with [ECM trumpeter] Tomasz Stanko.” On this album, Mr. Virelles explores the music of African forms of worship in Cuba. He also employs former Cecil Taylor drummer Andrew Cyrille on drums and various percussion instruments, along with another percussionist. It’s a fascinating look at the spiritual side of Cuban music.
So, that’s Pi Recordings for 2012. Pick any of the five albums discussed here or, better yet, get them all. You can bet Twist and Shout, Denver’s best independent record store, has them all. Open yourself to the great music that Seth Rosner and Yulun Wang work so hard to bring you.