Donald's Encyclopedia of Popular Music



A record label formed in 1967 in Chicago. Its small output of very high quality consists of recordings which deserved to be issued and to stay in print; the packaging and technology have been first-class, nearly all recordings produced with economy and skill by Chuck Nessa (b 20 May 1944, Story City, Iowa). He went to work managing the Jazz Record Mart in Chicago for Robert Koester on condition that he could learn how records were made, and produced some sessions for Delmark in 1966 by AACM members (e.g. Roscoe Mitchell's Sound, Joseph Jarman's Song For, Muhal Richard Abrams' Levels And Degrees Of Light), then started his own label; 24 LPs through 1984 included sets by the earliest incarnation of the Art Ensemble of Chicago, Air, Hal Russell's NRG Ensemble; tenormen Von Freeman, Warne Marsh, Eddie Johnson and Fred Anderson; trumpeter Leo Smith, and choice Roscoe Mitchell items (two two-LP sets). Bought in from outside were sets by Ben Webster and Lucky Thompson (from Ensayo) and two sets by the Art Ensemble (from EMI France). Purchased outright were two discs of Bobby Bradford with John Stevens (produced by Alan Bates),  and Charles Tyler's Saga Of The Outlaws, produced by Michael Cuscuna.

Nessa also produced the marvellous eponymous Ira Sullivan album '77 on Flying Fish (on a Nessa CD in 2014). Some Nessa product was issued on Chief CDs in Europe (Russell, Smith, Mitchell, Freeman) but his own label (like all small labels) suffered from Reagonomics: the phony boom in the US dollar saw overseas sales disappear in the mid-'80s at exactly the time CD reissues needed to be made. He began issuing his own first CDs in 1993 with one of the most valuable compilations in black music: a limited edition five-CD set of The Art Ensemble 1967/68, comprising the classic albums Congliptious, Numbers 1&2 and Quartet/Old, plus previously unpublished material. Reissues by Air and Fred Anderson came out '96; a deal was made with Bomba in Japan for at least nine items; Mitchell's delightful Snurdy McGurdy and her Dancin' Shoes reappeared in 2003, and Warne Marsh's valuable All Music in 2004, with additional material intelligently programmed so you can hear the quartet working on a tune.

Nessa also worked with Dr Robert E. Sunenblick at Uptown Records; among the extremely valuable Uptown releases he worked on are In The Land Of Oo-Blah-Dee 1947-1953 by tenor saxist Allen Eager and Charles 'Baron' Mingus, West Coast, 1945-49, compiling all of Mingus's 78s, most of them extremely rare, with a 96-page booklet about West Coast jazz in the 1940s which would alone be worth the price of the set.

All of the Nessa material is appearing on CD; the two sets by Russell's NRG Ensemble both have previously unreleased tracks on CD which are not just fillers but astonishing delights. In 2009, the Bradford/Stevens and the Charles Tyler sets appeared on CD, and also that year a wonderful surprise: the first new Nessa item in much too long. He acquired the rights to the Jazzfest Berlin 2002 set by Von Freeman and his New Apartment Lounge Quartet; Vonsky Speaks saw the master in splendid form, and a recording of very high quality. Then in 2011 came 6 Duos (Wesleyan) 2006, a set of endlessly wonderful conversations by Anthony Braxton on reeds and John McDonough on trumpet, followed in 2014 by Silver Cornet, by the Bobby Bradford and Frode Gjerstad quartet, with Ingebrigt Håker Flaten and Frank Rosaly on bass and drums; and in 2015 by Celebrating Fred Anderson, recorded live with MItchell, Tomeka Reid on cello, Junius Paul and Vincent Davis on bass and drums. Each Nessa release is a treat for fans of contemporary music.

Nessa's well-designed new Facebook page is here; it will keep a lot of hard-core music fans up to date on their favorite small label. Interviews with the man himself reveal how a farm boy from Iowa became one of the most highly regarded producers in the business.