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the sidebar » Blog Archive » E is for ESP-Disk
E is for ESP-Disk
By Michael Kaufmann
Thursday, October 22nd, 2009

espdiskThis week I have invited Chris Schlarb to comment on legendary label ESP-Disk. I felt that Chris’ knowledge of jazz, as well as a close working relationship with label manager Tom Abbs, would provide unique and personal insight:

Founded by New York lawyer Bernard Stollman in 1960, ESP-Disk’ drew up the blueprint for modern independent music. The label’s catalog swings wildly from anti-war folk and lung damaging free jazz to psychedelic rock and family band bossa nova. Releasing albums by little known artists such as Marion Brown, Pearls Before Swine, Patty Waters, The Fugs and Sun Ra, ESP-Disk’ proved it was committed to the voice of the auteur. After giving many artists their first public exposure, larger labels such as Columbia and Impulse! signed them away. Sadly, Stollman’s passionate vision was too progressive for its time and eventually ESP-Disk’ shut down in 1974. By 2005 however, the world began to catch up and the label was resurrected, now managed by acclaimed composer and bassist Tom Abbs.

Just how far ahead of the curve was ESP-Disk’? Modern improvised music is still indebted to the work of Albert Ayler and free jazz quartet, The Naked Future (featuring Old Time Relijun front man and Liz Janes collaborator, Arrington de Dionyso) honors the spirit of freedom found in those early recordings. Holy Modal Rounders’ “Indian War Whoop” presages the avant-tribal inclinations of Animal Collective’s “Here Comes The Indian” by more than 30 years and recent material from Talibam! picks up right where future smooth jazzer Bob James. If history truly repeats itself look for the members of Talibam! to write melancholy TV theme songs in the not too distant future. — Chris Schlarb


1. Patty Waters “You Loved Me” from Patty Waters Sings
2. Marion Brown “La Sorrella” from Why Not?
3. The Levitts “Then Was Then” from We Are The Levitts
4. Jerry Moore “Life Is A Constant Journey Home” from Ballad Of Birmingham
5. Holy Modal Rounders “Indian War Whoop” from Indian War Whoop
6. Talibam! “Nike Rim Johb” from Boogie in the Breeze Blocks
7. Bob James “Wolfman” from Explosions
8. Har “You Percussion Group Feed Me Good” from Har-You Percussion Group
9. The Naked Future “We Fly Beneath And Above The Flux” from Gigantomachia
10. Albert Ayler “Bells from Bells”
11. Yximalloo “Slick Hands” from Unpop

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One Response to “E is for ESP-Disk”

  1. asmakit1 Says:

    In 1969, I met Bill Falwell, who played with Albert Ayler on some of his Impulse albums; he said that ESP even screen-printed album covers in their office. He also expressed concern that Albert might soon follow his idol John Coltrane to the world beyond; unfortunately, Falwell was right- just a year later he was gone.

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