The problem with Jazz is that it’s old and because of that, many of the recordings are hard to come by or, at worst, simply unavailable. Add to that the absolutely shoddy reissue policy of major labels as well as the sometimes unbelievable prices for limited releases by labels such as Mosaic and out-of-print copies on eBay, and you are left with trying to find alternatives to get your fix.
In Europe – and this is something that bothers serious collectors – copyright laws are a bit different from the ones in the US, and recordings enter the public domain after 50 years. The problem is not that the music is available – after all, we’re tyring to feed our addiction – but that labels such as Fresh Sounds and Definitive Records don’t pay anyone anything for the reissues they put out. It’s pure profit for them. If you then think about the many jazz artists who lived or died in absolute poverty or the estates trying to preserve their legacy, things begin to look a bit more gloomy.
The issue isn’t that simple though. As tons of stuff remains unreleased from the vaults in the case of, for example, RCA, Columbia (one of the worst, shame on them, sitting on a ton of unreleased Count Basie material) and Decca, for jazz fans the only access to material are often the European labels that are, and that has to be stressed again, legal over here. To complicate matters further, to my knowledge there is no law protecting the actual remastering of a recording, making it possible for some labels to “clone” especially American labels’ releases. It is an open secret that as soon as Mosaic Records releases a major project, some European label will jump on it, maybe even copy it one to one or at best reshuffle and par down the session list and then release it at a much reduced price. What activity like this means for the people who have invested a lot of time and energy into researching and producing the reissue in the first place is quite clear. At some point they have to start wondering why they are bothering at all. So, it might well be that by purchasing from some of the more notorious European labels, collectors are essentially endangering the supply lines feeding their own addiction.
Still, I wouldn’t be surprised if many serious jazz fans threw their ideals to the wind when they had a look at the ever-growing reissue catalog of the many different labels the Absolute Distribution site houses (Update: The site is now called “Blue Sounds”). Absolute Distribution, hailing from Barcelona in Spain, probably has the largest “shady” reissue catalog available, although there are lots of legit releases on the list as well.
Basically, there are two reasons why I buy there. Firstly, I often cannot afford Mosaic boxes ranging from $120 to $150 (plus shipping and taxes) and I certainly can’t pay as much as $800 (Count Basie Live Mosaic) for out-of-print boxes from the same label on eBay. Secondly, a lot of the sessions released by Definitive Records, Lonehill Jazz, Blue Moon, Jazz Factory and Fresh Sound Records, to name a few of the more known labels distributed by Absolute Distribution, are simply not available anywhere else. I could throw a fit every time I see the wonderful stuff they release, knowing that the label holding the rights to the recordings isn’t doing doodly squat to release it to the public in any sensible manner. It was Jazz Factory that released a 4-disc set of Tony Fruscella’s recordings – good luck trying to find that elsewhere. It’s also not that long ago I bought “Chet Baker: The Original Quartet, Sextet & Septet With Russ Freeman – Complete 1953-1954 Studio Recordings”, a double-CD set with 49 tracks, featuring Chet Baker, Bud Shank, Bob Gordon, Jack Montrose, Red Mitchel, and Shelly Manne, or “The Original Chet Baker & Gerry Mulligan Quartet Complete Recordings”, a fabulous 4-CD set. The price for each one was a laugh – 15 and 25 Euro respectively – and the sound was pristine. Absolutely fabulous stuff. And probably “stolen” (and not always as complete as they claim).
To make a long story short, I do buy from them, usually with a bad conscience and not as often as I could (or should), but whenever their newsletter slides into my mailbox, I run and check my bank account balance. If or when you order there, service and delivery are very good and fast and I’ve never had any problems with them whatsoever. If you’re not into ordering directly from online sources unknown to you, many of their reissues are openly sold around the globe, even in countries in which it is obviously illegal, also on Amazon or by the various marketplace dealers to be found there.