Leo Records: Thirty Years Old and Counting


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Remarkably, the latest batch of releases from Leo Records marked the labels thirtieth anniversary. In those three decades, proprietor Leo Feigin has released a prodigious amount of music on the Leo, LeoLab, Golden Years, Long Arms and Feet First labels, achieving an enviable balance between releases by established stars and those by lesser known artists that the label has backed and developed.

Leo has a fine array of releases by Anthony Braxton, Marilyn Crispell, the Ganelin Trio, Joëlle Léandre, Sainkho Namchylak, Lauren Newton, Evan Parker, and Sun Ra. These include such acknowledged classics as Braxton's Ninetet (Yoshis) 1997 series, Crispell's Gaia, the Ganelin Trio's Ancora Da Capo and Parker's 50th Birthday Concert, an impressive list for a small independent label.

Since the early days, when its releases of jazz from the old Soviet Union (most notably the 1989 eight-CD box set Document. The 80s), Leo has put out music from further afield than the most obvious sources, USA and UK. In doing so, the label has opened our ears to much previously unheard music and developed the careers of many excellent players, the success of Crispell giving Feigin himself much satisfaction.

Along the way, it has not all been plain sailing for Feigin or his label. On one famous occasion in 1990 when his American distributors failed to pay him, his label came close to extinction. He wrote an open letter to music lovers via the letters column of The Wire magazine, appealing to them to buy CDs to help ease the crisis. They rallied round, but the label was ultimately saved by money that Feigin earned for a ten-part documentary series for [UK] Channel 4 on Russian New Music.

As the label enters its fourth decade, such crises are a thing of the past and it is in rude health, still championing artists known and upcoming, as demonstrated by its current crop of new releases from Jason Stein, Sainkho Namchylak and Dickson Dee, Katja Krusche & Martin V Krusche, Jan Klare, Bart Maris, Wilbert de Joode & Michael Vatcher, Frank Gratkowski, Helen Bledsoe, Alexey Lapin & Sebastian Gramss, and Vyscheslav Guyvoronsky, Andrei Kondakov & Vladimir Volkov. Roll on Leos fortieth birthday.

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