Meet The Label Interview: RR GEMS Records (Avantgarde/ Jazz/ Electronic/ Experimental/ Free Form)

Meet The Label is our new blog interview series presenting independent record labels and their releases from all over the world.
Do you have a label you want to see here? Then send a few words about it to diana@vinyloftheday.com. Today we present RR GEMS, an Estonian based label which releases Avantgarde/ Jazz/ Electronic/ Experimental and Free Form music from independent artist from all over the globe. We have talked to the founders of the label, Valentin & Dimitri, to get to know the label more.

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What does RR GEMS stand for?
The name stands for Rare Gems. Such wording refers to our conceptual vision for sharing and spreading a word about artists and albums, who are not getting enough of deserved attention and praise.

Who is behind the label?
RR GEMS Records core consists of two friends and record collectors Dimitri & Valentin.

Since when does your label exist?
As for the initial kick-off to our label enthusiastic activities, it can be said that all started as a part time hobby back in March 2017. However, there were many long nights and talks, accompanied by music from vinyl, where we shared our vision and possible ways to make our idea of a record label real.

What sparked the idea to found it? Is there any particular story behind it?
It all started approximately 4 years ago from a music blog in the web called Rare Gems, where we shared obscured lost-in-time albums with social media audience, mostly from independent record labels and private press issues. It was actually a long and demanding process to find out hidden gems and it has become sort of a challenge each time to dig the depths of the web and to finally find something lost and obscure, highly educating and interesting process by itself. One can say it has become a routine, where we sometimes added an element of competition by not sharing sources with each other and trying to surprise each other each time we made a post with new obscure music material. But this only strengthened our common vision and understanding on how to proceed.

While digging out lost musical gems, we have found it to be a huge disappointment to discover great records with completely no information about the musicians and context background whatsoever. This is why a decision was made to always have a documented information, which will better illustrate the background and ideas behind the records we release on our label. It is an integral part of our approach in relation to the released material. We see our records as collectible items having both cultural and historical significance. By doing so, we try to popularize experimental and creative approach in music. We want to engage more people to take a chance and discover new music with an open and free mind, without any particular prejudices.

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Your releases up so far have been an eclective and intriguing mix between Jazz and Avantgarde. From “An Evening With Muusa”, an one-of-a-kind Experimental Electronic album, to “Yxin Kotona”, a superb and rich in variety Jazz album by the Finnish band Plop, to “Live At The Downtown Gallery” by the Jesse Dulman Quartet, which is a fantastic Free Jazz album with a Tuba player as bandleader.

Is the label specialised in certain genres?
What do you focus on in selecting an album for a release?

Valentin: We happen to have slightly different musical tastes with Dimitri and this can be clearly seen from our record collections, but such difference actually really helps us to complement each other and our friendship. Myself being more into early electronic, ambient and kraut music, Dimitri at the same time is more into spiritual and free jazz. While selecting material to be released, for us the most important aspect is unanimity in our vision and understanding. If we both are into it, then we are clear to proceed. We seat, have tea or beer, listen to stuff together and then share our ideas. So far, already in the process of initial listening session, it was clear by the sights and smiles we shared – that this is IT. And off we go!

Dimitri: Valentin is more into ambient experimental electronic kind of thing and I dig african-leaning spiritual, free form, jazz music and more. We do inspire each other to discover new music. Valentin even turned me to one Canadian guy called Mac DeMarco music and cool electronic stuff and on the other side I can see him now buying stashes of avant-garde and free jazz records.

Music is a reflection of the influences of many nations and various cultures. Keeping this in mind, we see a lot of similarities between our released records. We concentrate on releasing free form, jazz and experimental music from independent artists. We release music that we enjoy and which feels right to us. We find such music to be free, sincere and fresh at the same time.

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What connects all three releases is that they are produced by Misha Panfilov, an intriguing Estonian multi-instrumentalist and producer. What is your connection to Misha?
Misha Panfilov is a good friend of ours, whom we have known for decades. We share similar music tastes and there is really no other man for us on these shores, who knows what kind of sound we are intending to achieve with our records. We share both instant and instinctive understanding for music and desired sound picture. At the same time, Misha is always keen to help us with advice and share his own experience, as he has already released dozen of singles and several LPs both on his own and also as a driving force of Estrada Orchestra. Misha is our main man (one can say – “a real homie”) and we love him. At the same time we try to also provide him with our full support with his ideas and activities as much as we can (and as much as Misha is willing to accept). We have a perfect synergy.

Are there other labels that inspire your work or which are a role model?
Being into record collecting state of mindset, we have for sure gained a certain picture of how we perceive a perfect record label. There are several record labels out there, whom work we admire and who have inspired us to proceed with our activities. We would like to bring some of the labels, who inspire us and in certain way are acting a role model for our activities:

  1. Jazzman Records. We are particularly inspired by the Jazzman Holy Grail series. You can feel all the love and attention to the detail in every record from that series. It is a great responsibility to release sought-after records that have been lost for decades and they are surely doing a top notch releases.
  2. WahWah Records. Barcelona based independent record label. Jordi, a man behind the label is a wonderful soul and passionate music lover backed by a true record collector spirit. Record label has released vast catalogue of musical material and albums of all sort of genres, with emphasis on hidden kraut and electronic music reissues. Releases are always with particular attention to detail and high-quality design layout.
  3. Melody as Truth. London based independent electronic record label led by Jonny Nash. Label is releasing wonderful stuff from Jonny Nash and Suzanne Kraft catalogue in experimental and ambient electronic genres. Activities of this label gave us a good example of how passion towards own music and ideas help to break the ice of establishment music scene an give an opportunity to spread new independent music worldwide.
  4. Frotee Records. Based in Tallinn, Estonia. Actually, if we would like to talk about the role-model for us, this label could be first in the list, led by our good friend Martin Jõela. This label is responsible for shedding light upon Soviet era Estonian music. Label started with enthusiastic activities in 2013 and gained worldwide recognition thanks to Martin hard-work. Martin is always keen to help us (as younger record label guild counterparts) with important hints and advise.
  5. JazzAgression Records. Another great role-model label for us, which is based in Norway and led by Fredrik Lavik. Fredrik does amazing job with reissuing important Estonian jazz albums. Label catalogue contains some important reissues from US and UK underground jazz scene.

Where are your records pressed? Is there an Estonian pressing plant?
In the question of record production, currenly we are working with a company from UK named DMS. Personnel at the company understands our wishes and we have gained good communication flow during the previous projects with them.
As for the Estonian pressing plant, couple of years ago a small manufacturing plant was introduced in a Tartu city. We know that there is an “in-country” possibility to do our releases and are keeping an eye on their progress and development, but at this stage prefer to work with a well-established company.

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How is the contact with the musicians established? Do they apply for a release or do you discover them yourself?
Im particular, how was the contact with Jesse Dulman established?

Up till now it were us, who made initial steps towards artists, we find this process organic and valuable. This way we are putting more enthusiasm and will into the process from the very beginning of work on a release, which further on give us additional stimulus to move forward with the release process.

So far we discovered artists by ourselves. We met PLOP during a concert at a local jazz club in “Philly Joe’s” in Tallinn. Mikko Innanen (sax) have priorly performed there accompanied by different musicians. We knew this concert was not to be missed, as he is one of the greatest out there and seeing Ville Herrala (double bass) and Joonas Riippa (drums) filling the bill we were here for some hot treat. PLOP exceeded our expectations as we were totally blown away! Later we have decided to share our excitement with them and the idea about releasing PLOP material. This lead to bringing trio for a recording session back to Tallinn, where Misha Panfilov stepped in as a producer and did a remarkable job. As it turned out PLOP’s album “Yxin Kotona” will be treasured forever next to other jazz greats on our shelves.

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Centre Electronique Muusa was the first record we have released on our label. The band consists of our two dearest friends Volodja Brodsky, who is one the masterminds behind the Estrada Orchestra and once again Misha Panfilov, our frequent collaborator. It was a great coincidence when we heard from the guys that they want to put this music on vinyl, as we were looking for a record to kick off with our label activities at that that time.

In regard to Jesse Dulman: Back in July 2017, Misha made a trip across the ocean to NY, because Leonid Galaganov (drums) asked him to record a couple of his jazz sessions. Later that week Jesse Dulman surprisingly invited Leonid to play together at Downtown Music Gallery. Also Ras Moshe (tenor sax) and Dave Sewelson (baritone sax) were invited. Misha set up the microphones and pressed the recording button. At the time nobody understood that this performance will be released on vinyl. Same night Misha dropped us a message that he just recorded some heat that we surely might like. The first thing Misha did on his return to Estonia, he played the recording to us and it was completely precious experience to us – hearing this music and understanding all the road it took and context it was recorded in.

Watch the Mini Documentary with Jesse Dulman:

Can you give us a small outlook into the releases that are coming up in 2018?
Upcoming month we are going to release an album by Canadian artist C.R. Gillespie. It is an electronic album with a unique ambient soundscape and approach to instruments used during the recording. Surely this spring given record will bring a new life and emotions into the world of electronic music admirers. Also we are working on several projects. One of them being a spiritual jazz record from an Austrian artist. Also there is one more. Electrified jazz unreleased material, courtesy of a great band from the 70s’. One more Estonian electronic album is also on it’s way.

Hear more about the records + extensive needle drops to each album in the Meet The Label – RR GEMS video:

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