Week ending 06 June 2020: Time Out With Bandcamp

The worldwide lockdown has given many of us more time out. That’s time to reflect at greater length – on all those we love, on Black Lives Matter, on the management of Covid-19, on our personal priorities and whatever else is important to us. For many, we can add to the list time out listening to more music – revisiting old favourites, discovering new artists and checking out new sources for our listening pleasure.

So, this week’s Cosmic Jazz is a special feature on one of those sources – Bandcamp. Founded 11 years ago in Oakland, California, Bandcamp offered a different kind of business model: artists and labels upload music to the site but control how they sell it – setting their own prices and offering the opportunity for buyers to pay more if they wish. Readers may remember the band Radiohead experimenting with a similar approach on the release of the In Rainbows album in 2007. Unlike Spotify and other streaming sites where the majority of artists receive paltry sums for their musical labours, Bandcamp offers both control and a genuine revenue. The contrasts are stark – for a musician to earn 1US$ takes 229 Spotify streams. Youtube, incidentally, is even worse – 1449 streams are required there. [Source: visualcapitalist.com].

Uploading music to the site is free, with Bandcamp taking a 15% cut of the sales (which drops to 10% if the artist’s sales surpass $5000). There are no format restrictions and downloaders can choose from lossy MP3 all the way up to lossless formats like FLAC and WAV. In addition, physical media formats are also available – vinyl and CD (with sometimes cassette too). Moreover, viewers can usually listen to a full album of music before committing to purchase. In 2016 they extended the opportunities for deeper exploration with Bandcamp Daily, an online music publication that was soon followed by Bandcamp Radio. The result is almost overwhelming – but invigorating and exciting as a huge range of new musical horizons stretch out before you.

A makeshift memorial for George Floyd includes mural, cards and flowers near the spot where he died while in police custody in Minneapolis.

The site first experimented with a charity initiative in March this year. In the mist of the coronavirus pandemic and with record stores around the world closed, Bandcamp announced a waiving of their revenue on all sales – artists would receive 100% from any sales. Following the success of this initial event, the one day initiative has been repeated each subsequent month and then – in response to the protest following the death of George Floyd and the many other African Americans killed by police violence – Bandcamp announced a 24 hour 100% donation to the NAACP Legal Defense Fund on 19 June 2020.

So what’s been the focus of my time out with Bandcamp this week? Well, with more labels and artists donating to black charities, here was a chance to check out some new jazz and jazz related music. This week’s Cosmic Jazz includes just a selection of the music I downloaded. Links are to the Bandcamp pages – no Youtube clips this week (except in our usual listening choices)!

First up is a Cosmic Jazz favourite, British-Bahraini saxophonist Yaz Ahmed. She’s released two extended live performances this week on the release When We Were Live – you can check it out right here. Only available to download for one weekend (05-07 June), When We Were Live is very much a limited edition recording and features five tracks from Ahmed’s quintet that were captured on tour in France during 2018. Ahmed writes “These last few months spent at home have made me realise just how much I love performing. I’m desperately missing sharing my music, the personal contact with my audience and the thrill of playing live with my band. I know many people had been hoping to catch one of my live shows in Europe or North America this summer, and so I thought I’d share this recording with you.” The tracks come from the La Saboteuse and Polyhymnia albums – both still available on Ahmed’s Bandcamp site.

Next is London based flautist Tenderlonious, aka Ed Cawthorne. In recent years, we’ve featured and played much of Cawthorne’s music and out this week on his 22a label is the result of a visit to Lahore where he got to play with Pakistani musicians – a long held ambition that links to his father’s experience as a Gurkha officer seconded to Asia. A chance meeting in a London pub with the Polish-based group Pakistani group Jaubi led to this new project. After the challenge of obtaining visas, Tenderlonious and his band finally arrived in Lahore in April 2109: “Lahore is something special; full of positivity, care and hope. It was, thankfully, all a stark contrast to the negativity we heard about Pakistan before arriving. It was not long into the first day and that first studio session that we realised this trip would be a real awakening. Nothing whatsoever was written down during the recording sessions – no sheet music, no song titles. It was sincere. All egos were left behind and hearts and souls were open and poured into the music.” You can find this and other Tenderlonious releases on his Bandcamp site here and there will be more music from Tenderlonious and Jaubi later in the year.

Third up is a new selection of tracks from Joe Davis’s Far Out Recordings. We’ve long been a champion of the largely Brazilian music that emanates from this long running UK-based label – whether it’s Marcos Valle or Milton Nascimento; Ana Mazzotti or Azymuth – and their latest is a Saudade-influenced collection, available via their Bandcamp site.

Saudade is a word with no direct English translation. In the Portuguese language it describes a sense of nostalgia for something that may never return. But in longing for that certain something, whether it’s a person, a place or a time gone by, saudade holds the thing you miss close, and keeps it present despite its absence. Portuguese author Manuel de Mello calls it “A pleasure you suffer, an ailment you enjoy.” As a nation steeped in slavery, the vibrance of African culture in Brazil amplified saudade, and it became something even more painful, but at the same time a little more rhythmic, perhaps even upbeat. This new collection, O Aperto da Saudade (the grip of saudade), attempts to translate the word through the music itself. Reaching deep into the Far Out back catalogue, the music ranges from 1965 to the present day, and spans psychedelic folk, samba jazz, bossa nova and MPB, featuring some of the nation’s musical icons alongside archival releases from lesser known artists, as well as some of the label’s more contemporary output. As the press release notes: “In times of loss and loneliness, recorded music has a magical power to lift the spirits, soothe the soul and serves as a great reminder that you are not alone.”

We’d certainly second that here at Cosmic Jazz. Enjoy the music – and stay safe.

Neil is listening to…

Derek is listening to…

Derek notes: I have chosen two tracks by Don Weller, the British tenor sax player, in remembrance as he died recently after a long illness. There is nothing like seeing jazz live for getting you into the music and many years ago I often saw Weller playing at the Bull’s Head in Barnes Bridge, South-West London. He was a big man, and made a big presence on stage; when he blew that saxophone it was intense, moving and soulful. He never said a lot, but often what he said revealed a very dry Croydon-style sense of humour. Weller was never highly fashionable, either in appearance or possibly even in terms of the recognition he received. Yet he was chosen to stand in for Michael Brecker in a Gil Evans tour of the UK. Weller was a stalwart of the British scene for many years and he never disappointed – you always left his gigs feeling totally uplifted and enthused. Respect is due.

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