Soul Jazz Records: Leftfield Nuggets You Need to Hear

Joe Bataan is an Latin soul musician from New York -- and one of the gems Soul Jazz Records unearths.

Dusty flea market plastic record crates, 50-cent sale bins at Goodwill (consistently and inexplicably brimming with Engelbert Humperdinck and Herb Alpert & the Tijuana Brass), strange estate sales whose blustery descriptions vaguely match the actual goods for sale, disorganized garage sales with overflowing boxes of attic and basement flotsam and jetsam, and sprawling record stores near and far. Once upon a time, the audiophile whose tastes ran eclectic, white label, bespoke or leftfield would endure such travails to prize out a few musical gems. Until the inception of Soul Jazz Records, that is.

Soul Jazz RecordsSoul Jazz launched in 1992 to mine leftfield catalogs for rare or out-of-print music and explore “cross cultural connections between various music genres.” The London label partnered with the Studio One imprint to distribute reissues, and later created subsidiaries such as Satellite, Universal Sound, Microsolutions to Megaproblems (for electronic music) and Yoruba (featuring well-known records by Osunlade ). Releases run the gamut of genres — everything from ragga to Jamaican funk, dubstep, Afro-Cuban, punk, No Wave, gospel, soul, blues, jazz, ska, house and Brazilian music are all exhaustively represented.

The label is something of a music ethnographer’s wet dream. Printed books accompany some music releases, exploring music movements borne of genre, locale or politics. For instance, the Punk 45 book accompanies numerous punk single compilations and is a beastly 400-page tour of punk 45 record covers curated by Soul Jazz founder Stuart Baker and Jon Savage, the author of English punk chronicle England’s Dreaming.

The label also runs Sounds of the Universe, a record store in Soho, London, and organizes music-centric film events such as screenings of Jean-Luc Godard’s 1968 film, Sympathy for the Devil, featuring music by Rolling Stones.

The recent Soul Jazz Records release of eclectic post-punk, punk funk and No Wave compilation New York Noise: Dance Music From the New York Underground 1977–1982 is the fourth in a series whose primary 2003 release featured ESG, Liquid Liquid, DNA and the Bush Tetras. Baker told Thump the compilation served to unite the high- and low-brow culture of New York during the seminal, febrile “period for writing, painting, experimental filmmaking and music” informed by Jean Michel Basquiat, Arto Lindsay, Laurie Anderson and Cindy Sherman.

That art renaissance “joined the dots between punk, disco, low culture and high art,” when the city was, according to Baker, in a “financial and political black hole,” which led “to cheap rent in the run-down warehouse region of the city (East Village) which in turn attract[ed] lots of poor people (aka artists and musicians) who [were] at the same time attracted to the allure of New York grit. This [led] to a proliferation of art and musical creativeness in relatively small area, aka downtown.”

Whatever specifically fed this renaissance, let this latest Soul Jazz release transport you to a 1976 Manhattan dance party where mohawked punk rockers, polyester-clad disco queens, transvestites and cashmere-and-pearl-wearing sorority girls converge to dance.