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Smoke Sessions Records Launches with New Releases by Harold Mabern, Vincent Herring, Javon Jackson, and David Hazeltine
(Published: March 19, 2014)

After surviving for almost 15 years in the white-knuckle world of running a New York City jazz club, Smoke co-owners Frank Christopher and Paul Stache decided that they were up for yet another daunting challenge, starting a jazz record label. Awed and inspired over the years by the music all around them, it was their dream to document and share it beyond the limited seats of the club. In the spring of 2013, they quit dreaming and instead recruited their friend Damon Smith to help turn the dream into a reality, Smoke Sessions Records.

The label's initial focus is on the music and musicians associated with the club. Guided by the golden age of independent jazz labels like Blue Note, Prestige, and Riverside, Smoke Sessions' ambitious plans are to release 10 to 20 new titles annually with 9 scheduled (one per month) through September 2014 and another full slate arriving starting again in January 2015. The first four titles are Harold Mabern's Right on Time (available now), Vincent Herring's The Uptown Shuffle (available now), Javon Jackson's Expression (available now) and David Hazeltine's For All We Know (available April 8). Also arriving in 2014 are new titles from Louis Hayes, Jimmy Cobb, Cyrus Chestnut, Orrin Evans, and Eric Reed. Initially, the label planned to record live performances at Smoke exclusively, but future titles starting this year will also include studio sessions.

All Smoke Sessions releases are produced using vintage techniques and audio paths - i.e.; Rupert Neve-designed mixing consoles (Amek-Angela), Studer mastering decks, and Manley tube equalization - in combination with modern high definition recording techniques. Label co-founder Stache records the sessions then works closely with GRAMMY® Award-winner Roman Klun to mix and master them. Each releases features original photography by Jimmy Katz, as well as an original 2,000-word artist interview. The limited edition 200-gram audiophile collection was mastered for vinyl by celebrated engineer Kevin Gray and includes a classic "tip-on style" gatefold record jacket. Smoke Sessions titles are available on deluxe compact disc albums and as high resolution digital downloads; a 200gram audiophile vinyl compilation celebrating the first four releases is also available.
The label's first title, Right On Time, is by the jazz piano eminence Harold Mabern. It's a fitting debut for Smoke Sessions as Mabern's frequent presence at Smoke over the years was instrumental in making it a major jazz destination. While most people his age are enjoying retirement, Mabern is still happily in the trenches in the sixth decade of his illustrious career. Clearly, he still has a lot to say.

Recorded over the weekend of his 77th birthday celebration in March 2013, Right on Time--which he dedicates to his idol, and fellow Memphis piano giant, Phineas Newborn, Jr.--captures all of the highlights of his two nights at Smoke with bassist John Webber and drummer Joe Farnsworth, one of his two working trios. Mabern knows a thing or two about putting together a balanced musical program and he draws on an extensive repertoire for this title including classic blues, swinging standards, moving ballads, and modal tempests.

Always on the lookout for material from outside the jazz box, Mabern opens Right on Time with Peter Brown's disco hit "Dance with Me." He finds another surprising gem in plain sight with the well-known Theme to Laverne and Shirley "Making our Dreams Come True." He also includes some of his favorite composers-Richard Rodgers, Thad Jones, Henry Mancini, and Hoagy Carmichael-and delivers an unusually melancholy and particularly beautiful rendition of "Don't Get Around Much Anymore." There is a blistering, bebop reading of "Cherokee," as well as "Seven Steps to Heaven" conceived during his time with Miles in the '60s and his own beloved original, "Edward Lee" dedicated to trumpeter Lee Morgan. Finally, he builds the ebulliently swinging "Blues for Frank 'n' Paul 'n' All" from another unlikely source-the outgoing message on his answering machine. It was a melodic fragment that proved so popular with fellow musicians that he "finished it" with an ending and now dedicates it to the entire Smoke family.

Many consider Mabern the very definition of a "jazz master," and Right On Time is just the most recent evidence that it's high time that the National Endowment for the Arts officially makes him a Jazz Master, too.

More Information: http://SmokeSessionsRecords.com

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