Roughly a year ago in an interview with Elan Mehler we introduced Newvelle Records, a very promising new vinyl-only boutique record label in development. At that point Newvelle was on the cusp of its first release, among those a solo piano record by NEA Jazz Master drummer-bandleader-composer Jack DeJohnette, who actually began his performing career as a pianist and who years ago set that precedent with a piano release for the Landmark label. Since then I’ve had an opportunity to sample two of Newvelle’s initial spate of releases, albums by the late pianist Don Friedman, who passed on to ancestry last June, and the rangy, composer-ly pianist Frank Kimbrough, whose past exploits include the Herbie Nichols Project.
The rewarding music of those two releases aside, fresh out of the box it was clear that like certain other distinctive vinyl labels of the past (CTI, etc.), Newvelle is developing a “look”. Each release came in a gatefold, black & white graphics package, with artfully minimalist front covers. Inside, minimalism reigns as well with stark, scenic color photography, sans liner notes (admittedly to the chagrin of this frequent liner notes contributor, but we can live with one less opportunity I suppose). The back cover contains complete album details, including crediting (all songs on the Friedman – a 2-record set – were written by the lamentably premature ancestor trumpeter Booker Little; befitting Kimbrough, his program is all his originals), and artful, minimalist personnel design graphics. The inside sleeves of both releases are emblazoned with Newvelle’s distinctive logo on one side, and the poetry of Tracy K. Smith on the flip side.
Slipping vinyl from sleeve… another mark of distinction: each record is what might be characterized (sans whatever the vinyl industry term may be) as frosty colored vinyl. Clearly some follow-up questions for Elan Mehler were in order.
Considering the Don Friedman and Frank Kimbrough releases, from the gatefold jackets, to the spare graphics there is a clear sense that you’re endeavoring to establish a “look” for your Newvelle releases. What is the thinking behind that “look” and how important is that to your overall business plan?
Elan Mehler: We are definitely interested in maintaining an identity and a feel for our records. I think the “look” comes directly from the concept. Because we release in “seasons” by membership, each series of six records uses the same cover artist and writer. A lot of our “look” comes from giving these artists as big a canvas as possible. Not trying to fill the space around their work leaves clean lines. Each season should have its own flavor that comes from the artist and the curation. Season two is all color photos from the collective Tendance Floue while Season One is all Black and White covers by Bernard Plossu.
The frosted vinyl appearance of your records is rather unique; how did you come up with that product?
Thats actually what a clear vinyl looks like with no dye added. I’ve always thought clear vinyl looked cool and we like the message that we don’t add anything unnecessary to the process…
From your initial releases one might get the sense that you have started out, at least in your initial stages, with piano-based records. Is that a fair assessment of your plan?
No. We’re going as the muse takes us. I’m a pianist so we reached out to some of my teachers and mentors, like Frank Kimbrough and Don Friedman. I also have always loved Jack DeJohnette’s touch on the piano and Jack recommended Leo, who’s an incredible pianist. But, from both seasons: Noah Preminger, Ben Allison, John Patitucci and Chris Tordini all have bands without piano.
How have you gone about determining whom to record for Newvelle?
Well, its been my pleasure and privilege to reach out to some of the musicians I’ve most admired since I first fell in love with Jazz as a pianist. Some musicians have reached out to me directly with specific projects. I’d like Newvelle to become a home for projects that musicians have thought about doing for a long time but don’t necessarily fit into their “narrative” of releases. I love that we’ve recorded Jack DeJohnette’s first solo piano record, Frank’s first quintet record, Noah Preminger’s first ballad record, John Patitucci’s first record of all Brazillian music, Rufus Reid‘s first recording with string quartet, the first duo recording from Lionel Loueke and Kevin Hays…
What are your plans going forward, in terms of recording projects in the works or on your wish list?
I have a couple people that I’ve been speaking with about Season Three, but I don’t want to give up all of our secrets yet! If you’re out there and think you might be a good fit for what we’re up to here and like our model, give me a shout!
The Newvelle Kickstarter campaign is posted until December 1st at https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1906610871/newvelle-records-box-set-and-season-2-launch