Nuna is a book of compositions for solo piano by Cuban-American pianist and composer David Virelles. A 2021 recipient of the Herb Alpert Award in the Arts, Virelles has worked with musicians as distinct as Henry Threadgill, Andrew Cyrille, Ravi Coltrane, Mark Turner, Chris Potter, Tomasz Stanko, Steve Coleman, Wadada Leo Smith, Paul Motian, Bill Frisell, Tom Harrell and Milford Graves. His release Continuum (Pi 2012) was named the best jazz release of that year by The New York Times. After three esteemed releases on the ECM label, Virelles returned to Pi with Igbo Alakorin: The Singers Grove (2017), which was voted top Latin Jazz album in that year’s NPR Jazz Critics Poll.
Virelles describes Nuna as “a metaphor for the piano as an ancient instrument.” While the sonorities of the Steinway Model D concert grand piano are often on full display in his playing, he pays equal emphasis to tempering the instrument’s natural resonance, connecting it more to the sound of folkloric instruments such as thumb pianos, harps and drums. He achieves this purely through touch and pedaling, without any other mechanical manipulation or “prepping.” Indeed, the entire album is a demonstration of Virelles’s masterful control of shading, dynamics and timbre.
It’s unmistakably the work of a singular probing intellect. As with each of Virelles’s projects, Nuna bridges the folkloric with the contemporary, while shrouded in an aura of mystery.
Our first release of 2022 has arrived, Miles Okazaki’s Thisness. The third studio recording of Miles’ quartet, featuring Matt Mitchell on piano and keyboards, Anthony Tidd on electric bass and Sean Rickman on drums, is comprised of a four piece suite, whose title originated with a Sun Ra recording.
Thisness captures the next chapter in the evolution of the Trickster sound. For Thisness, rather than a fixed book of compositions, the music is comprised of various themes that the group weaves in and out of, connected by hubs that Okazaki describes as “traffic circles, or bus stations.” Through hidden musical cues, the leader signals when the music is approaching the transition point and which path to take to exit. As Okazaki described it: “I had detailed blueprints, but at some point, surrendered to the dream logic of the collective. The intention was to make something like an exquisite corpse, the collective improvisations developed by the Surrealists. For this album my job as composer was to bring in some ideas, set them in motion and then listen, trying to recognize the value of serendipitous events at transitional points in the music and lead the band down whatever path may be opening.” The wonder lies in the journey, with beautiful new vistas opening with each turn in the road.
Thank you for a Memorable 20th Year, Here’s to 2022
2021 has seen a return to normal of sorts for Pi Recordings. It was also our 20th anniversary, and while the events that we had in the works to celebrate never came to fruition because of the pandemic, the occasion was still an opportunity for us to reflect on our two-decade long journey. Started by Seth Rosner with no grand plan other than to release two volumes of music by Henry Threadgill, we have somehow become one of the more highly-regarded record labels in-and-around jazz despite never releasing more than six albums in any year. For us, it’s all about finding original, uncompromising music full of risk-taking and rigorous thinking and execution. We have also always taken inspiration from our North Star Muhal Richard Abrams and his words at the inaugural meeting of the AACM: “First of all, number one, there’s original music, only.” But really what the label represents is a distillation of our ever-evolving taste in music, which has helped keep the catalogue from getting stagnant. In a sense, the label is one very long journey that we have had the privilege to take with all of you.
We wish everyone health and safety in these difficult and turbulent times and look forward to the day that we can all come together once again in the presence of live music.
It’s 2021 and it’s our 20th anniversary. We’ve spent a lot of time this year thinking about the past two decades, our catalog, the artists we’ve worked with and how the music has evolved. Lots of thoughts about our future, what we want to do and what we hope to see happen.
One idea we keep coming back to is the incredible amount of fluidity and cross fertilization that we now see between so many different musical communities. There are more and more unexpected collaborations and blurring of stylistic boundaries. And the results have been refreshing and full of enormous promise. Making a concerted effort to foster new connections and new partnerships feels right to us, and that means actively reaching outside of our normal musical circle of family and friends.
Lots of conversations with the artists on our roster have taken place. But the idea of remixing the catalog and finding ways to reimagine the last twenty years with fresh eyes, quickly gained a lot of traction. So, we decided to seek out fresh and uncompromising voices, just outside of our regular orbit, who share a kind of Pi Recordings “ethos” for individualism and experimentation. Jlin and Georgia Anne Muldrowwere the first two artists we sought to collaborate with. It should go without saying that our respect and admiration for their work runs deep.
We ended up sharing the Pi catalog with both Jlin and Georgia Anne and they both immediately found artists whose work resonated with their own and who they wanted to remix. Jlin focused on Steve Lehman’s “Cognition,” from his 2016 Selebeyone recording. The pairing of Lehman’s propulsive rhythms and Jlin’s one-of-a-kind approach to beat science was a natural. Steve’s writing often bears witness to a certain electronic sheen, and those evocations are more than fully realized through Jlin’s ears — one of electronic music’s current innovators.
For her part, Georgia Anne is no stranger to Henry Threadgill’s music; going so far as to dedicate a song to him on one of her earliest recordings (“Thread’s First Stitches”). Her father (noted jazz guitarist, Ronald Muldrow) was a friend of Henry’s in Chicago. As Georgia put it “please understand, Mr. Threadgill’s music was my first and only goal from the moment we started the remix conversation.” Goal realized. And the crossroads connecting the unclassifiable Muldrow and the ever iconoclastic Threadgill on Georgia Anne’s reimagining of “Clear and Distinct” is something we are very proud to be a part of.
Our sincere thanks go out to Jlin and Georgia Anne. Their enthusiasm and complete embrace of this project has been inspiring and joyful to witness. These two remixes are the first in a series of remixes we will drop this year, all conceived and executed by women of color. We look forward to future collaborations with Moor Mother, Val Inc. and others.
With so much going on in the world we haven’t posted an update on a few months so here we are.
Since our last check in much had happened. Jen Shyu released Zero Grasses: Ritual for the Losses and Anna Webber released Idiom. Both recordings have been met with high praise. The Wall Street Journal chronicled the development of Zero Grasses and BandCamp described the music on Idiom as, “… brilliantly harnessed the inventive sounds of free improvisation in works that are driving, dynamically scaled, and bursting with contrasts in volume, texture, and density.”
2021 still holds plenty of music. New releases by Matt Mitchell & Kate Gentile’s Snark Horse, Steve Coleman & Five Elements and Henry Threadgill Zooid, plus some other surprises. Below is a sneak preview from disc 2 “Fraughtleau” of the Snark Horse 6 CD box set. Check out trapezoid | matching tickles. The box set is available now through BandCamp and will ship out in late July.
Friday March 5th Pi’s 2021 release schedule kicks off with the release of Hafez Modirzadeh’s Facets. A recording of duets between Hafez and three unique pianists, Kris Davis, Craig Taborn and Tyshawn Sorey.
Facets was three years in the making beginning with a two night performance at the Jazz Gallery in Manhattan and featuring four sets of music with a different pianist each set. Expanding on the concepts and ideas Hafez put into motion with the retuned piano featured on Post-Chromodal Out, Modirzadeh has distilled the approach to a single re-tuning for Facets. Modirzadeh himself utilizes alternate fingerings and embouchure adjustments on his instrument to achieve intervals between major and minor, and the pieces sway with an elasticity reminiscent of Persian poetic meter. With eight keys re-tuned and the remainder left in equal temperament, the music explores the coexistence of familiar with unfamiliar, and in the process, discovers new logic and mysterious beauty within.
This third chapter in Pi’s documentation of Hafez’s work is the first release of our 20th anniversary year and a fitting start.
As 2020 winds down we wanted to take this moment to thank everyone who reached out to see how we were doing, supported the artists and their releases with their purchases and let us know what an important role music plays in their life. During these times particularly.
Our release schedule for 2020 was greatly curtailed unfortunately. February saw the release of Liberty Ellman’s Last Desert and September Dan Weiss’ Natural Selection. In between those two releases we began our digital only series, This is Now: Love in the Time of Covid via BandCamp. This Is Now saw releases by Steve Lehman, David Virelles, Liberty Ellman, Vijay Iyer and Miles Okazaki.
As we approach the end of the year we wanted to leave everyone with this note. 2021 promises to be better and we look forward to sound tracking it. Releases by Hafez Modirzadeh, Jen Shyu, Henry Threadgill, Matt Mitchell and Kate Gentile have kept us hopeful and excited to for what’s to come. Best to all and have a safe and healthy end of the year.
New Liberty Ellman Recording “Last Desert” Out March 27th
March 27th, guitarist Liberty Ellman’s sextet returns with Last Desert, the follow up to his critically-acclaimed 2015 release Radiate, which the Wall Street Journal described as “bristling with energy and innovation” and Downbeat praised as “unique, indelible and fully human.” Named #1 Rising Star Guitarist in the 2016 Downbeat Critics Poll, Ellman is perhaps best known as a trusted associate of jazz legend Henry Threadgill, with whom he has played for almost 20 years, including on the Pulitzer Prize-winning release In for a Penny, In for a Pound. His unorthodox playing style is also key to collaborations with the likes of Myra Melford, Joe Lovano, and JD Allen. Pianist and MacArthur Fellow Vijay Iyer calls him “my favorite living guitarist.”
Ellman’s new work is inspired by a foot race that takes place in Antarctica, the final leg in a series of ultramarathons called Four Deserts that take place in some of the harshest environments on earth. Last Desert celebrates the juxtaposition of the austere beauty of the landscape with the grueling nature of the event, and the clarity of focus that the competition requires. His compositions employ a complex melodic weave, but are always lyrical and percolate with groove. Ellman is rejoined by all the musicians from Radiate: Steve Lehman on alto sax, Jonathan Finlayson on trumpet, Jose Davila on tuba, Stephan Crump on bass and Damion Reid on drums. Together, they conjure Ellman’s panoramic musical vista to brilliant effect.
Welcome to 2020. The new year is starting off with lots of momentum. We’re working on new releases and are excited to get them out.
Our first releases of 2020 is the Liberty Ellman sextet’s Last Desert. The recording will be out in March. The lineup from Radiate, Liberty – guitar, Stephan Crump – bass, Damion Reid – drums, Steve Lehman – alto saxophone, Jonathan Finlayson – trumpet and José Davila – tuba, trombone, all return for this latest installment.
Following that, Dan Weiss’s Starebaby will be returning with their new album Natural Selection in May 2020. Starebaby has been performing the music live and will be bring it to Big Ears in Knoxville in March. They will be there alongside Steve Coleman and Five Elements, featuring Jonathan Finlayson – trumpet, Kokayi – lyricist, Anthony Tidd – electric bass and Sean Rickman – drums. If you’ve never been to Big Ears you owe it to yourself to go. There’s nothing else like it.
A closing note on 2019, we are very excited that once again we had a very positive showing in this year’s NPR Jazz Critics Poll. Three of our releases earned spots in the top 10.
Art Ensemble of Chicago – We Are On The Edge: A 50th Anniversary Celebration, Steve Lehman Trio & Craig Taborn – The People I Love and Anna Webber – Clockwise.
Additionally, 3 other Pi releases were in the top 50: Tyshawn Sorey & Marilyn Crispell – The Adornment of Time Matt Mitchell – Phalanx Ambassadors Miles Okazaki – The Sky Below
Thank you for helping us to have a great 2019 and we look forward to what 2020 has in store.
Happy start of the holiday season. Running now through Monday, December 2nd we are having a Black Friday sale. All items in the Pi store will be 20% off. This includes CDs, vinyl, tee shirts and scores. If you prefer digital purchases you can visit our BandCamp page.
Please use the code PiBlackFridaySale at checkout to receive your 20% discount.