It’s hard to believe that Pi Recordings have only been around for 20 years. Considering the quantity and absurdly prestigious quality of the music they have released under their banner, it feels like they’ve always existed. But all it takes is a glance at the discographies of modern jazz giants like Henry Threadgill, Steve Coleman, and Muhal Richard Abrams to see that most of their 21st-century momentum came about through Pi releases. Many younger artists like Steve Lehman, Liberty Ellman, Jonathan Finlayson, Matt Mitchell, and Dan Weiss have also hit their stride thanks to Pi.
On this label, you get the old, the new, the subtle, the bold, the fresh, and the refreshed (the Art Ensemble of Chicago being an example of that last one). There are a multitude of ways to celebrate the label’s anniversary, but the label has decided to kick things off with a pair of remixes. Georgia Anne Muldrow‘s remix of Henry Threadgill’s “Clear and Distinct” and Jlin‘s remix of Steve Lehman’s “Cognition” are meant to be the first installment in an ongoing series of remixes from the Pi catalog.
The contemporary jazz of Pi Recordings is understandably ripe for remixing. If Madlib can plunder old-school Blue Note for his Shades of Blue and if the Verve catalog and Herb Alpert’s Whipped Cream and Other Delights can be cut to ribbons at the mixing disc, then why not a pair of selections from Pi? And what better way to give these tracks a fresh interpretation than with a fresh pair of ears outside of the label’s roster? Enter Georgia Anne Muldrow and Jlin, two artists whom the decision-makers at Pi felt shared the label’s “‘ethos’ for individualism and experimentation”.
Indeed, the resulting remixes are just as experimental as the source material, though neither of them goes astray. You’re only looking at a total of seven and a half minutes, showing that Muldrow and Jlin exercised considerable restraint here. Serious connoisseurs of pop/rock will swap tales of remixes that more than double the length of the original song, only to find the extra time does nothing to enhance the experience.
Georgia Anne Muldrow’s father was a friend of Threadgill’s back in the saxophonist/flutist/composer’s windy city days, so she zeroed in on one of the two albums he released in 2018, Double Up, Plays Double Up Plus. The title “Clear and Distinct” is sprawled across the middle of the album in three different cuts spanning 24 minutes, but Muldrow plucks out just four minutes for her purposes. The track opens with almost a full minute of clattering piano, static-tinged percussion, and radiotronics before the heavily syncopated horn line gives us the meat of the piece. Complementary wind passages are bathed in a deep echo, helping to stitch together an electronic backdrop that no one would mistake for a Threadgill ensemble. She also intermittently punctures the mix with brief gaps of silence, introducing a bit of glitch to the party. This version of “Clear and Distinct” fades out after so many layers have had their say, an odd way to end a remix but an appropriate one to end such a dramatic reimagining.
Jlin turned to Steve Lehman’s Sélébéyone for the cut “Cognition”, an album where the saxophonist took a step back from the spectral harmony that lights up his work with his octet. The original cut is already a highly-treated piece with HPrizm and Gaston Bandimic’s rap performances and Lehman’s use of a sequencer. Jlin cuts the song’s length almost in half and focuses her attention on a handful of saxophone figures. As Lehman’s performance is looped and looped again, a beat almost too fast for most clubbers chugs along and paves the way for interruptions that are even glitchier than Muldrow’s reading of Threadgill.
If these remixes are just the start of an ongoing project, then that project is off to a good start. Jlin’s slicing and dicing complement Muldrow’s conjuring of ambient glitch quite well. Followers of the label need not be cautious, for this genre-melding is exactly the kind of thing they’re aiming for.