Diving into the Vinyl-Only World of Cotter Records
Bobbito Garcia, the New York DJ and streetball legend, doesn't like the playlist on his East Village Radio show to be predictable.
"I kind of pride myself on the fact that you can never guess what I'm going to play," he says during a recent phone interview.
So how then does Garcia account for the fact that for three consecutive weeks on his show in February and March, he set things off with the same exact record, a jazz cut from an album called Technicolor Hi-Fi by the drummer, bandleader and producer Pat Van Dyke?
There's certainly no personal connection.
"I don't know Pat from a can of paint," Garcia says. "But what I perceive the PVD record to be is a jazz record that's probably produced by someone young enough to be raised on hip-hop."
"There's records that scream at you to play them," he adds. "The PVD record just kind of yells, 'Yo, play me.'"
See also: Ten Jazz Albums to Hear Before You Die
Anyone with a love for the two genres Garcia mentioned will likely feel the same way. Technicolor Hi-Fi, which was released near the end of last year, is part of a pattern that's growing more and more commonplace: kids who grew up on hip-hop finding jazz and then making jazz music that reflects and is informed by the structure of hip-hop.
You can hear that structure in the delirious loops of Technicolor Hi-Fi. The record is built on repetition with slight deviations: it's a warm and comfortable environment for a rap fan, while still adventurous (and gorgeous) enough to qualify as jazz. The record is influenced by the CTI recordings of Bob James and the earlier work of Herbie Hancock, but even as its soul is made from jazz, the bones on which it hangs clearly belong to hip hop.
Pat Van Dyke grew up in Bergen County, New Jersey, and started playing the keyboard when he was 5 years old. In 4th grade, he switched to drums. An early fan of the Wu Tang Clan, A Tribe Called Quest and De La Soul Jazz, Van Dyke found himself interested in the music that had informed those artists.
"Everybody I knew was listening to hip-hop," he says to me, at Tile Bar in the East Village. "I started kind of digging back into the jazz stuff, getting into Miles Davis, John Coltrane, learning that whole lineage."
He became interested enough to make following those musicians his life. Van Dyke was a jazz performance major at William Paterson University. He then cut his teeth playing clubs in Manhattan, first the Sidewalk Café and the now shuttered C-Note jazz club and then eventually on to SOB's and the Blue Note. He taught kids how to play music to make ends meet, even as he had three kids of his own. And he produced hip-hop for local artists. But Van Dyke was always interested in being more than a drummer, or a bandleader, or a producer for somebody else. He wanted to be an artist in his own right.
"I wanted to be able to write music, score films, take the production level to a new place," he says. "I started looking at the craft like a composer."
There were albums before Technicolor Hi-Fi. A 2005 attempt, Down for the Get Down, is still on iTunes, and you can hear a younger Van Dyke (who is now 32) already honing his style. But the new album, first conceived in 2010, was the first time he'd attempted a cohesive whole, and produced, mixed and mastered the record himself. The experience, he says, has been the most rewarding of his life, with record orders coming in from all over the world.
Van Dyke's sudden success has a lot to do with the actual music he's made. But he (and I, and Bobbito, and everyone else I talked to about the record) also gave credit to one other element. Technicolor Hi-Fi was first made available on limited edition clear vinyl, courtesy of the Brooklyn based one-man record label, Cotter Records.
"I'm sure I would have just been another email in everyone's inbox if it wasn't for that piece of wax in their mailbox." says Van Dyke. "It makes a difference."
"I had a million people tell me along the way once the record was done 'Yo man, you just gotta put it out,'" says Van Dyke. "I had done that with a lot of projects and I felt that this one was more personal, more special to me. I wanted to wait until I found the right home for it."
That home ended up being Cotter Records, a one-man, vinyl-pressing label run by Brian Cotter Coulombe, an amiable 34 year old originally from New Hampshire. Coulombe seemingly inspires the admiration of most everyone who gets the pleasure of working with him. I reached out to quite a few artists who have put out music with Cotter: much of their praise was so hyperbolic that to actually quote it directly would be absurd.
Jeff Marino, the guitarist for the soul band The One & Nines, who have released several 45's with the label, summed up the spirit of most commenters. "Brian puts out records for the same reasons that we play music and make the records. Because he loves music and records. He's a fan."
Coulombe was involved with college radio at the University of New Hampshire and when he moved to Boston after graduating, his love for college radio led him to volunteer at Brandeis's radio station as well. He fell in love with the stations' collection of vinyl around the same time as he was exploring the jazz and soul that fueled the music he'd discovered from listening to Yo! MTV Raps and Boston hip-hop stations. When he got the idea of pressing records of his own, he wanted to make sure he honored the legacy of the music that had inspired him.
"We always have the aesthetic, when we're deciding whether or not to do a record, whether it instinctually feels that it should be on vinyl," Cotter says.
That focus on vinyl (and vinyl is the only thing that Cotter will put out), made sense for Van Dyke.
"I always wanted it to be a vinyl release," he says of Technicolor Hi-Fi.
Cotter has historically concentrated on putting out 45s; Technicolor Hi-Fi is the first LP the label has released. That stems partly from Coulombe's love for record collecting, and for finding a limited-release rarity. It also adds to the mystique of the label's output, even as it detracts from their funds.
"When we did our first 7" with Brian, the band was briefly working with an independent publisher," Marino says. "Brian's approach was pretty much 'Hey, let's put these few hundred records out, get them in a few local record stores, sell them through a few mail order websites, sell them at shows, and when they're gone, they're gone. And maybe they'll be a collector's item one day!'
"Our publicist didn't really completely understand that attitude. It was like, 'Collector's item? You have to get it OUT there, print more copies, try and sell it to a bigger label or bigger distributor?. Of course she was right, and of course we all wanted those things, but again we were just looking at it as fans of music and records. Brian just wanted to make something great, or at least something cool."
Technicolor Hi-Fi--originally pressed onto no more than one hundred discs of clear vinyl--seems, in some ways, to be fated to disappear. But that doesn't actually set it apart from most contemporary music. Even now, digging through Soundcloud is not unlike digging through an unending crate of records--though of course, without the physical quality that collectors value so highly. So even as Van Dyke's record seems to look backwards, there is something about its existence in both the physical and digital spheres and its Benjamin Button-take on hip-hop and jazz that seems brand new. Van Dyke gives a lot of credit for those qualities to Cotter.
"I couldn't have made this record what it is without Brian" says Van Dyke. "There's something special about releasing a record this way. You're either hip to it or you're not. You get your hands on it when you can, or you miss out." Ten (More) Jazz Albums to Hear Before You Die Ten Jazz Albums to Hear Before You Die Ten Free Jazz Albums to Hear Before You Die
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