On the Record rounds up details about new and pending recordings of interest to the new-music community: contemporary classical music and jazz, electronic and electroacoustic music, and idioms for which no clever genre name has been coined, on CD, vinyl LP, cassette, digital-only formats… you name it.
This list of upcoming release dates is culled from press releases, Amazon and other online record stores, social-media posts, and similar resources. Dates cited correspond to U.S. release of physical recordings where applicable, and are subject to change. (Links to Amazon, where used, do not imply endorsement.)
These listings are not comprehensive—nor could they be! To submit a forthcoming recording for consideration, email information to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Astral Spirits celebrates its fifth anniversary
Back in 2014, a Texas musician named Nate Cross took advantage of a resurgent vogue for the cassette tape, of all things, and cross-pollinated that seemingly unlikely state of affairs with his own passion for fiery avant-garde jazz, heady strains of free improvisation and electronic music, and more. What resulted was Astral Spirits, a feisty offshoot of the Austin, TX-based label Monofonus Press devoted to issuing tapes made in editions of just 150 or so copies, usually in batches of four titles at a time. The decision was based on economics—but not just that.
“By presenting it on tape, my hope is that it could change the dynamics of how someone might interact with the music,” Cross told journalist and critic Bill Meyer in a terrific Chicago Reader profile covering the label’s origin and mission. “There are a lot of stereotypes of a typical jazz fan, for better or worse—I’m just hoping maybe I can broaden the audience a bit by presenting it in a slightly unconventional manner.”
It speaks to Cross’s energy and enthusiasm that now, only five years later, Astral Spirits has more than 100 titles in its catalog, including releases by marquee names like Thurston Moore, Rob Mazurek, Ken Vandermark, and Susan Alcorn, as well as dozens of artists equally worthy of attention—and, increasingly, titles issued on vinyl and/or CD in addition to cassette. A second digital-only imprint, Astral Editions, has added still more to the mix.
This week, in addition to opening pre-orders for four new releases due in mid-October, Cross issued a bargain-priced anthology: Astral Ascending: Celebrating 5 Years of Astral Spirits Records. The digital collection includes 33 tracks, mostly by artists associated with Cross’s labels, and 16 of them exclusive to this project. It’s priced generously at $10, which also gets you a shot at winning an autographed copy of a limited edition Joe McPhee LP the label issued in 2016, Zurich (1979). But since Bandcamp provides an option to pay more than the suggested price, Cross has sweetened the pot: every additional $10 paid for Astral Ascending earns a buyer one more shot at the McPhee LP.
Via email, Cross consented to answer a batch of questions regarding the past, present, and near future of Astral Spirits. (The exchange is lightly edited, for clarity and continuity.)
NATIONAL SAWDUST LOG: What was the flash of inspiration that made you start the label in the first place? I’m not talking about media format here, but about the musical impetus.
NATE CROSS: Well, it was a few different things. Initially I just wanted to put on free jazz shows in Austin, and my thought to differentiate it from other folks here that already do that (Epistrophy Arts, No Idea Festival, etc.) was that I could do a tape release from the group or of the show. Eventually I talked with Morgan Coy of Monofonus Press, and he encouraged me to just try doing it as a full-fledged label instead.
The musical impetus is less obvious to me now; it had been building up for a while. I had always been a huge fan of free jazz and improv for years, but as a musician I’d always played in rock bands and was never really good enough to play jazz. [One of] the real eureka moments of my free jazz/improv life was when a friend made me go see the Brötzmann/Parker/Drake trio in Bloomington, IN, in 1999, when I was 20… the other was when I went up to Chicago with some friends in 1999 or 2000 to see the Fred Anderson Trio and the Chicago Underground Quartet.
The label was a way to move away from bands and touring, and still have a musical outlet that was more focused on supporting music and musicians I loved and looked up to. The start of the label also more or less coincided with when Ingebrigt Håker Flaten moved to Austin and we became friends. Ingebrigt really encouraged me, and introduced me to so many amazing folks that it started to make sense in my head that I could give this a go.
You put Astral Spirits on the map as a cassette label, first and foremost. Lately, though, you’ve starting producing more vinyl and CDs. What prompted you to diversify?
Well, I always wanted to release vinyl records; it was just a bit cost prohibitive to try to start out that way without knowing if the label would really catch on. I’m a big record collector myself, so that was always the initial impetus, in a way.
CDs are more or less just as cheap to produce these days as tapes, and so it just sorta made sense to give it a try since so many people emailed asking about why I wasn’t making CDs. Also, CDs seem to be easy to move for a lot of touring artists I work with, so I’m able to give them a larger share of artist copies of CDs, and hopefully in turn they can actually make some money off the release, as well.
Funnily, since I made my initial reputation early on as a cassette label, it’s actually harder to sell vinyl and CDs than it is tapes. There are a lot of people that have incredibly strong feelings about format, and it just gets exhausting… in the end, it’s all music, and it just seems a bit petty to criticize how another person enjoys it.
Jazz and improv aren’t typically associated with the cassette, historically, though of course the medium has always been amenable to experimental expression. Would you say that the so-called “cassette boom” was useful in drawing attention to Astral Spirits?
I guess I’m not sure exactly which “cassette boom” you’re referring to, but certainly in the past five years there has been a wider audience for cassette releases, especially with platforms like Bandcamp and others encouraging and promoting cassettes as a viable format.
I feel like the real “cassette boom” was right before I started Astral Spirits. I really got into collecting tapes during the early-mid ’00s with American Tapes/Wolf Eyes, Not Not Fun (when they were a bit more psychedelic/noisy), Digitalis Recordings, all the various Emeralds projects. Full disclosure: I played in a group that released a tape on Not Not Fun in 2009, Expensive Shit, Powwow with Chopper.
A lot of the music being released was improv-based, just not really “free jazz.” So in my head it made sense that (as you stated) cassette releases have always been amenable to experimental expression—why not try it with real-deal free jazz?!
Not long ago you started a digital-only imprint, Astral Editions. What is that area of your output meant to achieve? And have you encountered resistance among your longtime supporters?
I started Astral Editions because there was a lot of stuff I wanted to release on Astral Spirits, but just didn’t have room in my way-too-busy release schedule. The idea being, let’s do a digital-only release on Astral Editions, and then in the not too distant future we’ll do a proper release on Astral Spirits.
Two examples of that: the Josh Berman/Paul Lytton/Jason Roebke trio: digi-only Trio Correspondences on Astral Editions in May 2019, and their new vinyl release, Trio Discrepancies, on Astral Spirits out this week. Also, Macie Stewart and Lia Kohl released Pocket Full of Bees on Astral Editions back in April 2019, and they will have a tape release on Astral Spirits in early 2020.
I haven’t gotten quite as much traffic on Astral Editions, but it’s slowly picking up steam, I think, mostly because the releases are so strong—especially our most recent ones from Rob Lundberg and Apathist! (Alex Cunningham and Christopher Trull). I didn’t want it to seem like the B team or the “up and coming” label, because a lot of these albums are just as good as anything on Astral Spirits.
The most resistance I’ve seen to Astral Editions is actually from writers and folks who review albums! There is a sense that because it’s digital-only, it’s not a “real” release. I had two folks in particular that took time out of their schedules to write me rather long-winded responses to a press email about what I was doing wrong, etc. And then there were also a handful of folks that said they liked the album(s), but wouldn’t review them because they were digital only. Just a strange attitude to have in 2019, especially since I’m talking about digital-only releases that you have to buy and can’t even stream.
How did you determine what to include on the Astral Ascending compilation?
Well, for the most part I emailed a large majority of artists I’ve worked with and asked who would be willing to contribute exclusive tracks. From there, I thought of other ideas that might have been a little outside of my Astral Spirits world – for instance, a few tracks that are groups I have not nor won’t release anything for, but have one or two members that I’ve worked with often – that I thought would be fun to include.
I tried my best to keep it pretty forward thinking, as you’ll find a lot of things from upcoming artists or very recent ones. I included some older tracks from OOP albums, but because I’ve released so much, it seemed hard to try and pick favorites, so I kept that to a minimum.
As you look forward into the label’s future, how do you envision things changing? I recall reading that you might slow down the pace at which you’ve put projects out into the world—is that accurate? If so, why?
Yes, I’m hoping to slow things down a good bit in 2020. There are a handful of reasons:
1. Monofonus Press, my parent label, is closing at the end of the year. They’ve been so incredibly supportive and amazing, I can’t thank them enough. But it does leave me without a safety net or any additional support, so I just need to be realistic about what one person can do.
2. I’m going to try and do a few “bigger” projects—a few double LPs and some other things that I’d like to take a little extra time with press, etc. Really try to push things a bit more than I’m able to currently with the amount of material that I’ve been putting out.
3. This is probably the biggest reason: time. I need to be a little better at managing my time, especially with two young kids (3 and 1), a full-time day job, and all the other things in life. Astral Spirits is still a one-man operation (for better or worse), and I think if I want to keep it moving forward for another 5 or 10 or 20 years, I need to have a more realistic pace.
4. I purposefully front loaded the label. I wanted to come out of the gates running to create an identity with Astral Spirits quickly. I’ve done around 120 releases in the first five years. I think I could be happy if I did another 120 in the next 10 years.
Finally, can you mention some specific projects coming up very soon, and in what formats?
November will be an exciting month as well. Since it’s a bit longer this year, I’m hoping reviewers won’t go on “best-of list” mode until the end of November. But, we have:
Anáhuac will release three separate albums on November 1! Anáhuac is Chris Cogburn, Ignaz Schick, and Juan Garcia. There will be a cassette release, a CD release, and a digital release—all three will have different material.
Amirtha Kidambi & Lea Bertucci will have their debut release, Phase Eclipse, on cassette & digital November 8.
Tetuzi Akiyama/Nicolas Field/Gregor Vidic will give us a tape/CD titled Interpersonal Subjectivities. Field and Vidic played my Astral Spirits in DC mini-festival, and I was so blown away. The trio adding Japanese guitarist Tetuzi Akiyama is really special, and I hope this introduces a lot of folks to Field and Vidic, especially as they aren’t household names yet.
KVL—last, but definitely not least! We will release the debut LP from the Chicago-based KVL group: Quin Kirchner, Danny Van Duerm, and Matthew Lux. Volume 1 will be out on LP and digital on November 15.
Taylor Ho Bynum 9-tette – The Ambiguity Manifesto (Firehouse 12)
Ethan Iverson Quartet with Tom Harrell – Common Practice (ECM)
Grey Mcmurray– Stay Up (figureight)
Louis Sclavis Quartet – Characters on a Wall (ECM)
Philip Thomas – Morton Feldman Piano (Another Timbre)
Various artists – Astral Ascending: Celebrating 5 Years of Astral Spirits Records (Astral Spirits)
John Zorn – The Hermetic Organ, Vol. 7: St. John the Divine (Tzadik)
(☆ – newly listed this week)
andPlay – playlist – compositions by Ashkhan Behzadi, David Bird, and Clara Iannotta (New Focus) Ashley Bathgate – ASH – compositions by Andrew Norman, Christopher Cerrone, Timo Andres, Jacob Cooper, Ted Hearne, and Robert Honstein (New Amsterdam) David Bowlin – Bird As Prophet – compositions by Mario Davidovsky, Alexandra Karastoyanova-Hermentin, Martin Bresnick, George Walker, and Du Yun (New Focus) Caroline Davis & Rob Clearfield’s Persona – Anthems (Sunnyside) ☆ Carolina Eyck – Elegies for Theremin & Voice (Butterscotch) Pauline Kim Harris – Heroine – compositions by Harris and Spencer Topel (Sono Luminus) Sarah Hennies – Reservoir 1: Preservation – Phillip Bush, Meridian (Black Truffle) Guillermo Klein y Los Guachos – Cristal (Sunnyside) Éliane Radigue – Occam Ocean 2 – ONCEIM (Shiiin) San Francisco Girls Chorus, The Knights, Trinity Youth Chorus – My Outstretched Hand – compositions by Lisa Bielawa, Colin Jacobsen, and Aaron Jay Kernis (Supertrain) Tyshawn Sorey and Marilyn Crispell – The Adornment of Time (Pi Recordings)
Binary Canary – iterative systems (Carrier) Kris Davis – Diatom Ribbons (Pyroclastic) Minor Pieces – The Heavy Steps of Dreaming (Fatcat) J. Pavone String Ensemble – Brick and Mortar (Birdwatcher) Voxfire – Fontis (Orenda) Michael Vincent Waller – Moments – performances by R. Andrew Lee and William Winant (Unseen Worlds)
Ernest Hood – Neighborhoods (Freedom to Spend; reissue of 1975 Thistlefield release) Bill MacKay and Katinka Kleijn – STIR (Drag City; related article here)
☆ Komeshi Trio – The Master Speaks Thrice (Astral Spirits)
Cassandra Miller – Bel Canto; Traveller Song; Tracery: Hardanger; Tracery: Lazy, Rocking – Juliet Fraser, Plus-Minus Ensemble (all that dust) Tim Parkinson – piano music 2015-16 – Mark Knoop (all that dust) Georgia Rodgers – A to B; Late lines – Serge Vuille, Séverine Ballon (all that dust) Karlheinz Stockhausen – Kontakte – George Barton, Siwan Rhys (all that dust)
☆ Ilia Belorukov & Vasco Trilla – Laniakea (Astral Spirits)
☆ Colin Fisher Quartet – Living Midnight (Astral Spirits)
☆ Nick Fraser/Kris Davis/Tony Malaby – Zoning (Astral Spirits)
Jan Garbarek/Hilliard Ensemble – Remember me, my dear (ECM)
Jim James, Teddy Abrams, Louisville Orchestra – The Order of Nature (Decca Gold; related article here)
Per Störby Jutbring – The Thief Bunny Society (Hoob)
Matana Roberts – Coin Coin Chapter 4: Memphis (Constellation) Saariselka – The Ground Our Sky (Temporary Residence) ☆ Kathleen Supové – Eye to Ivory – compositions by Mary Ellen Childs, Guy Barash, Nick Didkovsky, Randall Woolf, and Dafna Naphthali (Starkland)
Ka Baird – Respires (RVNGIntl.)
Mary Halvorson & John Dieterich – a tangle of stars (New Amsterdam) Jenny Lin – The Études Project, Volume One: ICEBERG – compositions by Iceberg New Music and others (Sono Luminus)
☆ CUP – Spinning Creature (Northern Spy)
Dither – Potential Differences – compositions by Eve Beglarian, Gyan Riley, Paula Matthusen, Jascha Narveson, Joshua Lopes, James Moore, Ted Hearne, Taylor Levine, and James Tenney (New Focus) ☆ Nick Dunston – Atlantic Extraction (Out of Your Head)
Mareike Wiening – Metropolis Paradise (Greenleaf Music)
This week in On the Record, The Necks defy expectation and categorization on 'Three,' their 21st album, new on Northern Spy. Plus dozens of listings for forthcoming releases.
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This week in On the Record: Bandcamp has responded to the current COVID-19 pandemic by waiving its fees for 24 hours, directing more money to artists and labels—here are some new and recent releases to buy today.