Over the years the fantastic, genre-defying Norwegian label Rune Grammofon has published a few books mostly celebrating its own snazzy design aesthetic and rich history, but a gorgeous new volume by art historian Johannes Rød focuses more on the music and artifacts that have influenced label owner Rune Kristofferson, who penned one of the forwards for Free Jazz and Improvisation on Vinyl 1965-1985 (there’s a second one by notorious “discaholic” and reedist Mats Gustaffson). Rød delivers an important disclaimer: “This might not be a definitive overview for the hardcore know-it-all collectors, but more of a guide for the ‘normal’ collectors and for those looking to expand their musical horizon and take a dive into the wonderful world of free jazz, improvisation, and generally speaking jazz outside of the mainstream.” The book concludes with a conversation between Kristofferson and music writer (and former Wire editor) Rob Young in which the former says the starting point for this particular project was ESP-Disk, which he calls “the first ‘serious’ independent label with a mission to record what you could call free music.”

Design by Marte Röling
  • Design by Marte Röling

The 128-page hardbound book features stunning design by Kim Hiorthøy, the man responsible for Rune Grammofon’s distinctive graphic sensibilities, with each profile of 60 independent labels from Europe and North America spilled out on ledgers. The listed discographies for labels like Bead, Emanem, CJR, Nessa, Sackville, and El Saturn, among many others, aren’t complete. Nessa, for example, has released terrific straight-ahead records by the likes of Von Freeman, Ira Sullivan, and Eddie Johnson, but Rød omits those because they certainly don’t fall into the terrain mapped out by the book’s title. Each label profile includes a concise history and description. The book also includes 18 color pages featuring 60 album covers, including eight of the stunning records Dutch artist Marte Röling designed for Fontana Records in the 60s. What this book essentially salutes is some of the people behind the scenes—label owners, producers, and designers—but if wasn’t for the music itself none of that would matter too much. Rød and Kristofferson have made a beautiful object that offers tribute to the entire enterprise of music and record making, in effect a high-end love letter.

Today’s playlist:

Trondheim Jazz Orchestra & Eirik Hegdal, Wood and Water (MNJ)
Keith Fullerton Whitman, Playthroughs (Kranky)
Patty Waters, Patty Waters Sings (ESP-Disk)
Vinnie Sperrazza, Apocryphal (Loyal Label)
Cortex, Live! (Clean Feed)