While there are literally dozens of tiny basement labels out there legally reissuing classic titles as well as those that have barely ever been on the radar, compared to Europe and Japan, relatively few of them are in the United States. Porter Records, a one-man operation run by Luke Mosling in Winter Park Florida, is among the latest; it is also one of the most ambitious. Their first three titles all roll out next week on February 19; they are all doozies.
First up is Moonflower (above), a brand new album by the legendary Finnish pianist Heikki Sarmanto and his quartet (pictured above). This brand new offering also features drummer Craig Herndon, bassist Pekka Sarmanto, and saxophonist Juhani Aaltonen as part of the lineup. Heikki is best known to American audiences for his with work with Sonny Rollins and Art Farmer. Heâ€™s recorded 25 albums as a leader, including the New Hope Jazz Mass for jazz ensemble, orchestra, soprano and choir (conducted by no less than Gregg Smith, which was performed at the Newport Jazz Festival). His symphonic jazz poem Suoni premiered at Carnegie Hall in 1988. Moonflower is a much more intimate work; it expands on the intense lyricism of Sarmantoâ€™s larger works in a smaller, more soulful setting. This is only the first of the Sarmanto projects Mosling is planning; later in the year will see the first-ever issue of A Boston Date by Sarmantoâ€™s Serious Music Ensemble from 1970, recorded while the pianist was attending the Berklee School of Music. Drummer Herndon â€” who plays on that set as well, along with Natural Foodâ€™s Lance Gunderson on guitar and bassist George Mraz â€” discovered the tape recently.
Birigwa is the strangest and perhaps most strangely beautiful record of the initial offering. Released in 1972 on Mait Edey's Seeds label, itâ€™s the African folk tradition by way of guitarist, songwriter and lead vocalist Birigwa, from Uganda. Stan Strickland plays saxophone and flute, Edey helps out on percussion, arranges, and plays piano on one tune. Percussionist Yusef Crowder stars, as does conguero Mpelelezi, with a rhythm section that boasts no less than Phil Morrison and Vinnie Johnson on bass and drums, respectively. Both were members of the Stark Reality, the freaky, acid-drenched rock and funky jazz outfit whose debut album from 1970 was unearthed by Stoneâ€™s Throw a couple of years back. Nowadays, fusions like Birigwa's are commonplace, but in the early '70s they were just emerging on this side of the Atlantic. Gorgeous vocal melodies that are as breezy as anything from Brazilian samba and as exploratory as those of Leon Thomas and Joe Lee Wilson abound here. They are melded seamlessly with the emerging self-determined music of the spiritual jazz vanguard (though this music is beautifully accessible), African folk musics, and the then-expanding soul tradition as heard in the music of Terry Callier, Bill Withers, and Jon Lucien.
Natural Food was Edeyâ€™s band -- a loose collective, actually -- that revolved around Herdon on drums as the only constant. Edey not only plays piano but Wurlitzer as well and also arranged the session. The rest of the cast are alternating players, Charlie LaChappelle plays bass on four cuts, and Stark Realityâ€™s Morrison does the other half. Saxophonists Bill Hurd and Billy Thompson alternate -- and play together on one -- and guitarists Lance Gunderson and Paul Lenart also play the switch role. Morrisonâ€™s SR bandmate John Abercrombie also plays guitar on a cut. Vocalist Brenda â€œLatifahâ€ James sings on three tracks, including stellar wild-woman readings of â€œGin House Blues,â€ â€œSee See Rider,â€ â€œSiren Song.â€ The music ranges from whomping, souled-out funky blues and jazz to more swinging post-bop fare as well as to the vanguard side of the genre. But as an album, it holds together like glue. Both Birigwa and Natural Food will eventually be released on vinyl as well as CD.
Auld Lang Syne
These first three offerings by Mosling and his Porter label prove heâ€™s not only serious, but that he has excellent taste â€” the man is a born crate-digger as well as a musician. His CDs can be found in stores and online thanks to a distribution deal with City Hall Records. Look for your nearest indie online retailer too; before he had distribution his titles could be â€” and still will be â€” found at Dusty Groove, Cadence and Reckless Records. Mosling's label has formed a partnership of sorts with the wonderful download-only Re-Release label (and yes, it's legal), that you can link to from his site. His immediate plans are for some new releases as well as reissuing some stellar titles -- Byard Lancaster's long-out-of-print Live At Macalester College is just one of them (with bonus material no less!). For more info, drop in on Mosling and Porter at https://porterrecords.com/.