Everything's OKeh

Sony have relaunched the legendary OKeh label to issue new music that reflects the global scope of jazz today, with artists ranging from David Sanborn to Dhafer Youssef

Jazz followers may have done a double-take on noticing lately names such as Bill Frisell, John Medeski, Michel Camilo and David Sanborn associated with the venerable OKeh imprint. Nearly a century after its first releases in 1918 the label, founded by Otto K. E. Heinemann, has been revived by Sony as the conduit for a new generation of jazz.

Other new signings include Dave Holland (his new group Prism with Craig Taborn, Kevin Eubanks and Eric Harland), Dhafer Youssef (with Nils Petter Molvaer and Eivind Aarset) and Craig Handy with a New Orleans take on the music of Jimmy Smith. New label boss Wulf Müller told JJ that the presence of a worldish artist such as Dhafer Youssef (pictured) is nothing unusual for the label.

“OKeh did already in the 1920s bring Czech, Hungarian, German and traditional Jewish music to the US to cater to the immigrants there.” OKeh’s early “race records”, coming before the integration of jazz into the Western mainstream, were in a sense also recordings with a “folk” identity; likewise its location recordings of country artists.

There’s a nice tension in that this latest revival is arguably (given that its early subjects such as Oliver, Ellington and Bechet were completely modern in their time) the first time OKeh has been devoted to “modern” jazz, having bypassed vast swathes of self-consciously modern music such as bebop, cool and free. But Wulf Müller recognises that jazz today is a global phenomenon, aesthetically and economically, not just merely “modern”. OKeh’s own mixed tradition is the reason, he says, that Sony has launched its new jazz programme under the OKeh banner.

“OKeh has a tradition of great recordings by great jazz artists, but as well has always been open to other music genres and especially ones related to jazz – blues and world music. And that is what I want to achieve again – high quality recordings with established and new artists who can bring something new and exciting to jazz.” Reflecting its internationalist origins, “Global Expressions in Jazz” is the revived label’s slogan.

Sony have also issued a series of multi-CD back-catalogue collections featuring Paul Desmond, Stan Getz, Wayne Shorter, Woody Shaw and more.

Photo of Dhafer Youssef by Laurent Edeline

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