Label Report: No More Records

Steve Koenig

[August 1999. Originally appeared in La Folia 2:1.]

Producer Alan Schneider started his ironically-named label, No More Records, with an intelligent idea. Record known improvising artists in settings different from their usual recordings. The result has been a small catalog with a solid reputation, studded with gems. Here’s the rundown to date.

Matthew Shipp: Symbol Systems. [No More No. 1, 65:52, 1995.]

Shipp is a known quantity, but only to those who know. This might be a perfect disc to start with if you don’t know his work yet or if it’s one you overlooked, especially because it’s solo. If I term the pieces études, don’t let that lead you to think: dry, studied. You can hear Shipp thinking, crafting this music which is simultaneously emotional, intellectual and intuitive. It’s strange how his sound is identifiable, because he incorporates so many elements into his music; you can correlate flashes of Romantic piano, Debussy, Satie, boogie-woogie, Bill Evans, Mussorgsky and the part of Cecil Taylor which explores notes and repetitive figures as Taylor does on Indent. Titles here give some slight sense of the pieces: “Harmonic Oscillator,” “Flow of Meaning,” “Dance of the Blue Atoms, “Algebraic Boogie,” and “Bop Abyss.”

My collection is my no means complete, and the earliest disc I have with Shipp as a leader was recorded in 1990, so I guess you might call Symbol Systems his middle period. Shipp has begun a hiatus from recording for a few years, though he still has many in the can awaiting release. You can still see him live, and make sure you do, so you won’t regret one day in the mid-21st century hearing someone else say, I heard Matthew Shipp when he was a kid back in the nineties. He leads various groupings on Silkheart, Infinite Zero, hat Hut, Thirsty Ear, and Rise Record. Try Symbol Systems first, as I believe it is his only solo outing, and his voice is strong and clear. Then, get the excellent dna, a disc of duets with bassist William Parker just released on Thirsty Ear. At the record release concert at Tonic, this duo showed Shipp at a new plateau. I was only able to stay for one piece, but I sat back and thought, “Yes; this is a voice,” and I heard the word.

Anthony Braxton: Solo Piano (Standards) 1995. [No More No. 2, two CDS, 63:19 + 57:53, 1995.]

Braxton is rightly known for his alto sax improvisations (see this month’s “Records Which Changed My Life”), his multiphonic techniques, his philosophies and graphic scores, and multi-universe operas. This is a fine chance to hear his piano work, on a double-disc of standards. These are not standard standards, mind you. Braxton has previously recorded two albums of standards apiece for Steeplechase and Magenta, a four-CD piano quintet of standards on M&A records live at Yoshi’s, and one with Mario Pavone, Dave Douglas, Thom Chapin and company on Knitting Factory, but these are not solo. I must plug a mind-boggling take on “All the Things You Are” by a trio of Braxton, Dave Holland and Philip Wilson on Town Hall (Trio & Quintet, 1972), and an even better one on Seven Compositions (Trio) 1989, with Adelhard Roidinger and Tony Oxley, both on hatART. These are not the standard standards; he chooses lesser-known Mingus pieces like “Remember Rockefeller at Attica” and “Sue’s Changes,” and two takes of Mal Waldron’s “Dee’s Dilemma.” True, there is “Pannonica” and “April in Paris,” but the programming is so well thought out, and his takes on all of them are fascinating.

Rob Brown Duo with Matthew Shipp: Blink of an Eye. [No More No. 3, 69:58, 1997.]

This was recorded in concert at my favorite music space, Roulette. I was there, and have different feelings hearing it in replay. This was my first encounter with Brown live, and I must say that although I liked what he played, I found his alto tone somewhat sour. Later in the concert, he hit a stride on sax, and his flute took on a life of its own, which really impressed me because I like so few people’s flutework. There was a ghostwind in the room, and his horn metamorphosed into a shenai and took us on a magic ride. Then we had to breathe, but there was a nine-minute encore. That was the memory.

Here is the reality: Shipp is an excellent foil for Brown, they really listen and breathe together. The horn has some amazing tones, and some indeed are sweet-and-sour, but unlike my live experience, this is all to the profit of the music. Shipp suddenly slows, deepens, gets more woody, and it’s like a drop in barometer; you take notice, your senses become sharper. Brown becomes more intricate and follows Shipp from mood to whim. In the second piece, Brown plays flute and alto simultaneously, not going for a Rahsaan Kirk thing, but a Rob Brown thing. Shipp joins, eight minutes in. Throughout the seventy-minute complete concert there is an amazing mind-meld. Start with this, then get Brown’s High Wire on Soul Note.

Joe Morris and William Parker: Invisible Weave. [No More No. 4, 75:54, 1997.]

Morris plays a very dry guitar, even when it’s amped. It makes one listen to the line of what he plays; no Frisell frizzy lushness to lose yourself in and forget. These are exciting, intelligent, rich-sounding improvised duets with master bassist Parker, recorded live at the Knitting Factory. Morris says in his notes, “We trust each other’s use of colors, texture, and complex sense of design,” and Parker’s buzzing arco and rich fingering, freely interweaving with Morris, makes for, despite the title, a wonderfully tangible, visible weave.

Billy Bang: Commandment (for the sculpture of Alain Kirili). [No More No. 5, 71:25, 1997.]

This complete solo violin performance is really a duet for violin and sculpture, and, as the liner notes insist, is “not a performance,” because it was not intended to entertain but to be a dialog. It was recorded at Kirili’s loft on an Easter Sunday, to a set of sculptures entitled “Commandment.” It’s Bang’s first solo disc, I believe, since the 1979 Hat Hut LP Distinction Without a Difference, which features an amazing take on “Skip To My Lou.” On Commandment, Bang speaks about the difference between hardness and softness, water and flow, his southern roots, faith, and these all come out in the music. Bang’s spoken introductions are rightly left in, and if there was applause, much of it was edited out, making for excellent listening at home. Again, the titles reveal much: “Pieta,” “’Bama Swing,” and “Music for the Love of It.” The twelve-minute “Daydreams” is the most formal-sounding piece, and indeed Bang says it was commissioned to be arranged for string quartet. The traditional “Swing Low” slashes out the first two notes, then pizzicatos a variation of the melody reminiscent of banjo pickin’, next heads right to the avant-garde. Sit in your chair, listen, enjoy the photos of the sculpture and the space, and feel blessed.

William Parker: Lifting the Sanctions. [No More No. 6, 71:46, 1998.]

Solo acoustic bass, no overdubs, rich woody sound. In the notes, Parker describes ten ways to bow the bass for a “full spectrum of sound,” as well as techniques and influential inspirations. The traycard photo is processed and gives Parker a Sun Ra aura; it’s a gorgeous package with cover and inner paintings by Jeff Schlanger, the Jazz Witness. The first track is twenty minutes of high energy arco. “Rainbow Escaping” is delicate, with plucking and softer sounds. Each of the six tracks has a contrasting mood and use of the bass. The strongest track is the jaunty “Macchu Picchu,” named after the Incan city. Then again, it might be the concluding title track, described as a “dance of hope for arco bass,” using multiphonics the way a sax player would.

Roy Campbell’s Pyramid Trio: Ancestral Homeland. [No More No. 7, 73:29, 1998.]

Trumpeter Campbell must have the tiredest lips in the biz. He has more than five regular groups that I’m aware of, and is in demand to join everyone else’s gig too. I most recently caught him guesting, as was saxophonist Sabir Mateen, with Dennis Warren’s Full Metal Revolutionary Jazz Ensemble at their July 3rd Knitting Factory gig. Campbell’s solos were superb, some with his trademark skittering free high notes, like metallic pebbles skipping the lake. The Pyramid Trio has one prior disc on Silkheart, and it’s good to hear this group, with William Parker and percussionist Zen Matsuura, again. They’ve been playing together since 1984. Ancestral Homeland features a personal and an audience favorite, “Brother Yusef,” written for Campbell’s former teacher Yusuf Lateef, one of the pioneers of using Eastern instruments in jazz. Lateef is still going strong. In this rendition, the tune begins with an intro with Matsuura playing African percussion and sticks, Campbell on argol and recorder simultaneously, sounding like an other-worldy, reedy harmonica. Then Parker begins a caravan-like bass vamp, with Campbell’s always-gorgeous mute providing a shenai-like sound. As is fit for a group named Pyramid, the Eastern influence takes over here, and the concluding track is “Camel Caravan,” though it is not audibly programmatic. The package design is, appropriately, of the pyramids, seen both from far, and close to the individual reddish bricks.

Mr Schneider can be contacted by email at