L-R: Camille Thurman, Mimi Jones, Shirazette Tinnin
Artist-run labels have a long history in jazz. They’re frequently a vehicle for artists to release their own work: Charles Mingus and Max Roach started Debut in the 1960s; Derek Bailey and Evan Parker ran Incus in the 1970s (and Bailey continued it after he and Parker split); and today, players like Dave Holland (Dare2), Jon Irabagon (Irabbagast) and others are also label heads. A few expand and put out records by other musicians as well: Dave Douglas‘s Greenleaf and Branford Marsalis‘s Marsalis Music are doing this, just as Stanley Cowell and Charles Tolliver‘s Strata-East imprint did in the 1970s. Of course, the king of them all is probably John Zorn, whose Tzadik imprint is a small cultural empire unto itself.
Hot Tone Music is a relatively new label, launched by bassist Mimi Jones in 2009 in order to get her first album as a leader, A New Day, to the public. Five years later, she’s broadened Hot Tone’s scope and issued three albums simultaneously—her second release, Balance; saxophonist/flautist Camille Thurman‘s Origins; and percussionist Shirazette Tinnin‘s Humility: Purity of My Soul. While each of these discs is an individual artistic statement, they’re also clearly the product of collective effort—Jones produced or co-produced each record, and plays on both Balance and Humility, while Thurman and Tinnin perform on all three.
Balance (buy it from Amazon MP3) is a long (79 minutes plus), multifaceted CD. Jones wrote or co-wrote six of its 12 tracks, but it also includes versions of Bob Dorough‘s “Nothing Like You,” Adele’s “Someone Like You,” and Roy Ayers’ “Everybody Loves the Sunshine,” plus a reworking of the children’s song “The Incy Wincy Spider.” Most of the music occupies a shimmering zone between post-bop and upscale R&B, but there are some surprises. “Patriot” is an electric mood piece showcasing Sewell’s distorted electric guitar and Perdomo’s keyboards—it has the same abstract, black-post-rock feel as the work of Burnt Sugar.
The band shifts from song to song; in addition to Thurman on flute and voice, and Tinnin on drums and percussion, trumpeter Ingrid Jensen, pianists Luis Perdomo, Enoch Smith Jr. and Miki Hayama, guitarists Marvin Sewell and Sean Harkness, drummer Justin Faulkner and singer Mala Waldron can all be heard. Jones herself sings, too; her voice is subtle but clear, never scatting or phrasing in an overly mannered style. When asked about the diverse personnel, Jones says, “Believe me, Phil, I really tried to bring the core group, I swear I did, but being the great musicians that folks are today it’s actually hard to get them all in one place on the same day. So in the past three years I’ve formed camps of folks that I like to play with that know the music; it’s safer and less stressful. Plus I wanted to try something new…I’d been waiting to finally get Ingrid on my project since we’d done a few dates with Terri Lynn Carrington‘s Mosaic, I’d had the chance to reunite with her, and she said yes. Marvin Sewell was messing around playing his song ["The Spinning Tree"] on piano and I had to have it; I tried to get other pianists to do it but it didn’t sound the same, so Marvin ended up playing it. Enoch, my super soulful brother, arranged the Adele song and again it sounded best when he played it, so there was a lot of unexpected additions, that in the moment made complete sense…and there went the core band theory.”