Thursday, April 07, 2005

Free At Last

If you're even vaguely considering purchasing the new Free-America jazz reissues, don't wait another minute! Although book publishers are still clinging to the hackneyed received wisdom that free jazz doesn't sell, copies of this limited edition series are flying off the shelves. J&R's Manhattan store blew through their stock of over 500 copies in a matter of days! A week later, their website was completely out of stock and unable to track down more copies - even through Amazon. (Note that both websites still erroneously list the entire series as "in stock"). The one place that guarantees it still has a few copies in stock is the estimable Dusty Groove, which now offers lower shipping rates via media mail.

I recently got six of the Free America titles from them and can vouch for the quality of the product. The packaging is surprisingly intricate. Stunning artwork and a booklet including photos and both brand new and original liner notes. A clear labor of love - no skimping on production costs. I wish they had reproduced the original covers in color, but the B&W fascimilies are nice in their own right. The remastering is also top notch. Reviews to follow next week of Art Ensemble of Chicago's With Fonetella Bass and Phase One, Dave Burrell's After Love, Alan Shorter's Tes Estat, Clifford Thornton's The Panther and the Lash, and Frank Wright's Uhuru Na Omoja.

Although much praise is due Universal for bringing these hideously rare titles into print, I'm surprised they've limited the series to 5,000 copies per title - with only 1,000 copies for the U.S. market. The demand has far outweighed supply (European copies sold out quickly too), so why not make more? Why go to all the trouble of creating such thoughtful packaging and remastering if the titles disappear as soon as they are printed? The worst thing is that the sales figures will probably be used as another empirical example to back up the idea that free jazz is hopelessly uncommercial. Five years from now, some exec at Universal will review the Free America numbers, note that each title in the series "only sold 1,000 copies," and decide that there's no reason to venture into such an unprofitable genre. Yeah, they sold only a thousand copies - in a single month! - because you refused to print more. So much for freemarket capitalism.


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