Thursday, November 25, 2010

Jazz artists turn to Kickstarter for funding

by Chris Barton Los Angeles Times

With a tough economy sending artists and food entrepreneurs toward grass-roots "crowd-funding" sites such as Kickstarter, it's no surprise that jazz musicians have started looking its way as well. Facing a cratering music industry, some of the worthy projects looking for support online include Seattle trumpeter Jason Parker's quest to fund his quartet's tribute to Nick Drake's "Five Leaves Left" and the New York City-based Search and Restore's ambitious $75,000 goal to create a year-long video documentation and online hub for the city's ever-percolating "indie" jazz community.

On the local front, Long Beach-based composer-guitarist Chris Schlarb joined Kickstarter to finance a limited, 180-gram vinyl release of his album "Psychic Temple," a contemplative, four-song odyssey that was only released digitally today via Sufjan Stevens' Asthmatic Kitty label. As one half of the atmospheric drone-jazz duo I Heart Lung, Schlarb's vision has grown even more ambitious with this record, which features 29 musicians that include members of the Philip Glass Ensemble, the Brian Blade Fellowship as well as local fixtures such as Mike Watt, Steuart Liebig and Anthony Shadduck.

In terms of categorization, Schlarb admits in the album's promo video (after the jump) that "Psychic Temple" doesn't fit squarely into a traditional view of jazz, but it's easy to hear a spiritual connection. Touches such as sweeping nonverbal vocals, the fuzzily elastic bassline cascading over "White Dove in the Psychic Temple" or the keening trumpet of the Empty Cage Quartet's Kris Tiner on album-opener "I Can Live Forever If I Slowly Die" are as reminiscent of the epic scope of some '70s jazz as the cinematic excursions of modern post-rock groups such as Chicago's Boxhead Ensemble.

In keeping with Kickstarter's rules, Schlarb's effort is an all-or-nothing proposition -- donations are only collected if his $3,555 goal is met by a Dec. 2 deadline. Following a similarly tiered system that drummer Josh Freese used to court fans for his solo album last year, Kickstarter artists often include amusing incentives with higher donation levels. Search and Restore's offers include a home-cooked meal from the organizers or an improvised musical voicemail from the Bad Plus' drummer Dave King, while Schlarb's pot-sweeteners range from a digital download at the $10 level to a personal performance anywhere in the U.S. for the most deep-pocketed donor.

At the time of this writing, Schlarb is a little more than a $1,000 away from his goal, an effort he further described in an e-mail as "No debt. No distribution. Just music." What could be more revolutionary than that?
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