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Greenleaf Music is the indie label run by trumpeter (and now cornetist) Dave Douglas, one of the most important jazz improvisers, composers, and bandleaders of the last decade. Since the 90s he’s released dozens of recordings with a slew of original projects and as a member of John Zorn’s Masada. But the guy doing much of the work behind Greenleaf is a Chicagoan named Michael Friedman, who also runs his own label, Premonition. Friedman has demonstrated an ability and willingness to adapt to an uncertain marketplace, and the Greenleaf Web site has increasingly provided digital downloads of Greenleaf and Premonition recordings; it also allows fans to subscribe at various levels to receive packages of download-only exclusive material, live CDs not available in stores, and mail-order discounts. (The site also sells physical CDs for a variety of jazz labels.) The live CDs belong the “Paperback Series,” which are packaged in rustic cardboard sleeves. Until recently all of the releases have featured Douglas's projects, but in January the label will issue a CD by Chicago’s Indigo Trio, which includes Nicole Mitchell, Harrison Bankhead, and Hamid Drake.
Earlier this week Greenleaf launched its most audacious venture: it released 12 sets of music performed by the Dave Douglas Quintet (with Uri Caine, Donny McCaslin, Clarence Penn, and James Genus) last week at the Jazz Standard in New York as MP3-only sets for seven bucks each. Although purchasing concert performances just days (or hours) after they happen isn’t a new phenomenon, the practice certainly makes more sense for jazz music, where (unlike the usual rock gig) a heavy emphasis on improvisation all but guarantees wildly divergent performances from night to night. The recording quality is first-rate, not some middling board feed—which seems to present this project as an alternative to the rampant BitTorrent bootlegs you practically stumble into on the Internet these days—and what I’ve heard of the massive set thus far has been creatively excellent. Although certain tunes were repeated over the week, the 79 individual performances were drawn from 44 different tunes, 14 of which had never been previously recorded. While the archival release of the Miles Davis Quintet Live at the Plugged Nickel is certainly a precedent for this endeavor—although it took 30 years for the full set to see release—technology would seem to guarantee that things like this won’t be unusual in the near future. Clearly such a mother lode of sounds isn’t for everyone, but for devoted fans it’s like manna from heaven.