Newvelle Records is a relatively new label (started in 2016) devoted to producing top-tier jazz recordings exclusively on 180g translucent blue vinyl, from newly recorded music, and with jazz musicians of the highest caliber. Including beautiful artistic album covers, poetry and stories—these are luxury products.
The founders are jazz pianist and composer Elan Mehler and Parisian business executive Jean-Christophe Morisseau. It is a subscription based model only ($400 per ‘Season’ (year)), delivering 6 records over a year; one every two months—and the number of pressings of each LP is small, only 1000; no digital versions are made available. Importantly, the business part of the model is a collaboration with the musicians themselves: Newvelle gets ownership for the first two years, and then it is handed over to the musicians to do with whatever they please (including making digital versions if they want). The music is studio recorded at East Side Sound, in New York City and the pressings are made in France. As described on their website, their recording process involves:
...mostly vintage and some tube microphones, all analog and some tube pre-amps and all the inputs are run through and summed through an entirely analog console (a Harrison Series Ten B) that has no ADs or DAs anywhere. We strive to keep our signal chain as short and clean as possible.
The LP in this review is the second in Newvelle’s Third Season: Andy Zimmerman, Half Light, made up of a quartet led by Andy Zimmerman (tenor saxophone) from Chicago with supporting New York City musicians pianist Kevin Hays, bassist Matt Penman, and Dave Douglas on trumpet—but no drummer. (Interestingly, although a drummerless quartet, the 9 foot Fazioli piano used by Kevin Hays on this LP is the same one used by drummer/pianist Jack DeJohnette in Newvelle’s first Season.) The sleeve has written on its back the second chapter (out of 6), ‘Mirages’, of a story Le voyage de Zim by French writer Ingrid Astier, about a man named Zim Zam who while continuing on a spiritual dream-like journey travels in Thailand (searching for luck?). There certainly is an unusual and pleasant dream-like quality to many of the tracks.
The recording engineer on the LP is Marc Urselli, and the mastering engineer is Alex Deturk; Newvelle is in good hands on that front. Mehler as a musician/composer himself and having been close with Zimmerman since college, played a more active role in the assembly/makeup of this quartet, and the production of the record. In fact Mehler and Zimmerman played together on the 2007 LP, Scheme for Thought, Brownswood Recordings. This is a well thought out ensemble—and it works effortlessly.
I had the pleasure of meeting Mehler, Urselli and Deterk at an intimate DeVore Fidelity Monkeyhaus event in March 2018 and wrote an Audiophilia article about the event.
I also met there a variety of the musicians who collaborate with Newvelle Records; Mehler even played (among other test recordings) one piece from Half Light. When Mehler contacted me recently with an offer to review the Half Light LP, I was happy to accept. Soon after, a box arrived from France.
Of the 11 pieces on the LP, 7 are composed by Zimmerman, and then one each by Hermeto Pascoal (Montreux), Elan Mehler (Lena’s Dance), Duke Ellington (Sunset and the Mocking- bird), and George Gershwin (Bess You Is My Woman Now). The pieces are relatively short, the longest only 5:18, the shortest 2:14. Interestingly the longest one is the one composed by Duke Ellington and on Ellington’s own verson the length is about 3:20; Zimmerman slows it down and does a fascinating job of replacing some of Ellington’s piano with the sax. As a whole, one senses jazz throughout this LP but with a soft, modern, classical twist, the piano in particular working with the sax to that end; check out for example The Bay Area and Two Sapphires, tracks 5 and 6 on side A, two of my favorites.
Overall, the recording displays impeccable natural acoustic sound, and the pieces and musicianship beautifully bring out the unique style of Zimmerman’s saxophone playing: intimate, meditative, gentle, soothing, reflective and casual; no squealing, wailing or harshness–more like Lester Young than (say) Ben Webster. One can understand why there is no drummer; at most I could envision adding in some very delicate cymbal work, and perhaps a light dash of brushes on a snare—no more.
Peaceful and relaxing, this LP will impress and charm even the non-jazz aficionado. If you can afford it, get it; if you can’t afford it then I hope you can find a venue where you can at least hear it played. Highly recommended.