First and foremost, Michael Janisch is a bassist. He’s about to drop his third solo album. He’s worked as a side player for dozens of A-list jazz artists. And he’s toured relentlessly with multiple bands. So, yes, a bassist first.
But in 2010 Janisch started a record label, Whirlwind Recordings, as a means of getting his own music out there. The label thrived, and over the last 10 years it has continued to rise in stature on the indie jazz scene, shifting as needed to embrace innovation in the music business. This is Janisch’s doing. Besides his talents as a performing artist, his entrepreneurial skills as a record producer are undeniable.
The backstory for the new album, Worlds Collide, demonstrates as much. To start, after touring for almost three years with his second release, Paradigm Shift, Janisch decided to make a switch in his usual personnel. “I had done a lot collaborative projects in the U.K. and wanted to play with an all American band,” the Minnesota-born Janisch recalled during a phone call from London, his home for the last 14 years. “I don’t know if I was feeling homesick or what.”
After that decision, the album happened quickly. He wrote the music a month before the session, flew the band to London, and recorded in the historic Abbey Roads Studios only four days after the first rehearsal. Next, the band went on tour, debuting Janisch’s new music at both the London Jazz Festival and the Hull Jazz Festival, both in the U.K., while the French channel Mezzo TV taped one of their live performances for a globally syndicated broadcast. No pressure.
The Worlds Collide tunes are not easy, either. For instance, the track “Another London” gives a nod to the Afrobeat sound of Nigerian composer Fela Kuti (Janisch is a fan), with ringing vertical horn parts synced over an odd-meter, funk-ish drum feel. An electronic riff cycles throughout until an insistent bop saxophone solo reclaims jazz as the tune’s fundamental context.
“A big movement in London now is post-acid jazz, very influenced by Afro-pop, so that’s got into my blood a bit,” Jamisch said, in discussing the tune. “The music sounds electronic in the compositional elements, but you play it on acoustic instruments.”
On the flip side of the “Another London” lies “Frocklebut,” a contemporary jazz composition heavily weighted toward free horn solos; this track is more viscerally American in its feel than some others on the record. “’Frocklebut’ is quite out and has an Ornette Coleman kind of vibe,” Janisch explained. “I wrote it so that the album would have some more chill parts.”
European trends in electro-acoustic sounds have intrigued Janisch for a while, and he duly notes the irony of using an all-American band to tap into them. “This album is a real mix of influences, which is why it’s called ‘Worlds Collide’,” he said.
Even so, when it comes to business he draws clear boundaries—he doesn’t talk about the label on other people’s gigs. So Janisch and critically lauded saxophonist Seamus Blake—longtime sidemen together on others’ projects—were both pleased when Blake’s new management serendippitously chose Whirlwind for Blake’s 2019 release, Guardians of the Heart Machine.
“[Whirlwind] seemed the best in terms of momentum and publicity…and I think that Michael did a great job [with the release],” Blake asserted. “Whereas a lot of people are giving up hope on the record industry, Michael seems to find a way to keep a viable business model happening. That’s rare nowadays.”
Signed artists like Blake stand to benefit from Janisch’s current plans for the label: As its 10-year anniversary approaches, Janisch expects collaborations with arts councils, outreach into new territories, and residencies for its musicians. Janisch has plans, too, for his own music—to double down and release more of it. “I used to play bass for eight hours a day. It made me happy, and I want to get back to that,” he claimed. As always, a bassist first.
(Reprinted from September 2019 issue of Downbeat magazine)