Relative Pitch is Built on Enthusiasm for Experimental Music

Label profile
Relative Pitch is built on a passion for experimental music

By Margaret Welsh 18 January 2023

Relative Pitch label owner Kevin Reilly would say he’s a music fan above all else.

For the past 12 years, that fandom has been the driving force behind Relative Pitch, which focuses on improvisational music, free jazz, avant-garde and other experimental subgenres. Reilly is not interested in trends or hype. Raised in New Jersey by working-class parents who were skeptical of the arts, he has always been wary of charlatans. As a result, his approach to the music world is very no-nonsense. He’s humble and unimpressed by gimmicks, but he’s always listening, always looking for something sublime, transcendent, and transformative.

“[I’ll] You listen to a record and think, “Who is the piano player on this record?” Who is that alto player? ‘ he said over the phone from his home in Plainsboro, New Jersey. “It’s all about hearing something and tracking it.” Experimental music may seem like a high barrier to entry for some listeners, but Riley is primarily looking for a connection. Despite what some may think, he says with a laugh:

Reilly launched Relative Pitch in 2011. His business His partner was Mike Panico, a fellow live music enthusiast he met while queuing for a show at Stone, John Zorn’s non-profit venue in Manhattan. Riley had a knack for building relationships on the scene, as he was scheduled to go to gigs most nights.

In his 2013 profile for Relative Pitch, trumpeter Nate Wooley, who released many records for the label, said: new york city jazz record “What makes this label special is that the people who run the label are the face of 90% of the audience at the shows we play in New York. are simply a natural part of who they are, rather than an overt community-building exercise.”

Reilly recalls before starting the label:and years go by [without it being released] And I still remember

Relative Pitch has become home for this kind of project. “The reason we started the label was because the great music people had in their cans wasn’t released,” says Reilly. “We didn’t have enough labels to release this.” When Reilly finds a recording or artist he likes, he focuses on getting it to listeners’ ears. As the label progressed, he said: I want to support people who are criminally underrepresented.

Relative Pitch has been a highly relevant operation from the beginning. “It’s really interesting how relationships develop,” Riley says. “First the musicians notice you come to every show. And they don’t know how to interpret that. Like, are you the weird stalker dude? gets to know you a little bit and you pick them up, carry their amps and release their records.”

Panico passed away in 2018 and Reilly continued to run Relative Pitch himself. Practicality has always been important. Reilly releases his music exclusively on CD or digitally, although he occasionally co-releases with vinyl and cassette tape labels. This economical, non-fussy, pragmatic (if a little unfashionable) approach allows him to make more releases than your average indie label. By the end of 2023, Relative Pitch plans to put out his 200 physical releases and his 10 digital-only releases.

Speaking over coffee at her studio in Lower Manhattan, multi-instrumentalist and composer Gina Perkins discusses the complexities of Riley’s relationship with the world of experimental music. His age, and it’s not just for emerging artists. Deeply involved in the scene, she often discovers artists for the first time through the release of Relative Pitch. “He’s passionate about following great music wherever it’s located. He kind of creates the landscape for it to live and be possible,” she says.

Known for “reinventing” the harp and collaborating extensively with the likes of Björk, Perkins is considered by Reilly to be one of the label’s “stones”, along with pedal steel player Susan Alcorn. Improviser/composer Jessica Pavone.

Reilly’s hope is to put out a Parkins record every year for the next ten years. “I want someone in ten years to write that this was the most productive decade for Gina Perkins,” he says. Please put out as many labeled items as possible. Please know that I will always be here.

Perkins, who has spent most of the past few decades touring and teaching, finally has time to capitalize on Riley’s clean slate. “It’s kind of a great moment. [I have] This list of projects I want to do and I know they have a house. “He’s invested in the people he works with. There’s an emotional connection. He’s nurturing, he’s building, and space [Relative Pitch] Taking up more and more, [bringing] More people will participate in it. ”

This is a sample of Relative Pitch’s vast catalog.

Joel Leandre / Philip Greenleaf
overt lust for things

The first two releases of Relative Pitch — this one and Vinny Golia’s please take it easy— released at about the same time. Shortly before the label was formed, Phillip Greenlief informed Reilly of an unreleased duo recording with Joëlle Léandre. Reilly was happy to give us a home. With Greenlief on woodwinds and Léandre on double bass, these 11 improvisations sound bright and conversational yet still fresh. It remains a good introduction to the label, and may appeal to listeners newly developing a taste for free jazz, given that it’s not as cacophonous as some of its other releases.

Marta Walleris
a grain of earth

One of Reilly’s favorite records of 2022 (and a full-stop highlight of his catalogue), a grain of earth Polish-born, Amsterdam-based pianist Marta Walleris’ first solo work. After hearing a recording of her in which she appeared, Riley says “her performance stuck in her head.” He got in touch about making a record. “When she sent it to me, it was a revelation,” he says. Sometimes it explodes with cacophony, and sometimes it (maybe) cracks cleverly (see the final moments of “Trip on the Right To”). There’s magic in the way she stitches everything together and makes it coherent. Reilly was delighted to find other listeners as enthusiastic as he was.

Masayo Koketsu

Another of Riley’s favorites from 2022, Masayo Kotetsu’s 46-minute improvisation cements her place as part of Japan’s rich avant-garde lineage. The Tokyo-based alto-his saxophonist discovered Charlie Parker as a teenager. FUKIYA It’s a record that expands and surprises you every time you listen to it. Riley, who reached out to Koketsu after finding the performance video on her Instagram, says her use of silence sets her apart from her peers.

Susan Alcorn

Pedal steel player Susan Alcorn has a number of great records in relative pitch. Soledad This is as beautiful an effort as you’ll hear on this or any other label. Here she interprets the work of Astor Her Piazzolla, the Argentine master who helped move tango music from the dance hall to the concert hall. Alcorn himself is a master at reinventing music. In her hands, her steel pedals, which are almost synonymous with her country music, are almost completely different. Of course, she played in her band in country, but she soon began drawing from jazz, classical, avant-garde, and various folk traditions. Soledad A very accessible record compared to some wild entries in the Relative Pitch catalog. But like all of the best experimental players, Alcorn expands the listener’s understanding of what’s possible.

Gina Perkins, Mette Rasmussen, Ryan Sawyer
glass triangle

A thrilling, almost Baroque aural exploration of auditory textures by Mette Rasmussen on alto sax, Ryan Sawyer on percussion and Gina Perkins on electric harp. Improvisations hold and magnify the listener’s attention like silly putty. You may jump from sound to sound at first. You may not know where you’ll fall between layers of brittle rattles, sharp squeaks, and low rumblings. Relax a little and don’t get hung up on any moment. By the time we get to “Crystal Chain Letters,” this seemingly dense record begins to shed pure light.

Christine Abderner and Chris Corsano
Where does white go when the snow melts?

This collaboration between improviser Christine Abdelnoor (alto sax) and noted experimental drummer Chris Corsano is a truly visceral listening experience. It rubs, creaks and vibrates to become strange, evocative and metallically melodic. It’s like a Gershwin record in a trash compactor.

Alex Zesson Ensemble
some of them were never ready

Reilly watched a professionally filmed live stream of the performance and was mesmerized. He contacted pianist and bandleader Alex Zessson, who released it on vinyl while Riley released the CD. It has Krautrock heft and a sense of melody, executed with a satisfying simplicity that grows organically, but with intention. I’m here. Ostensibly minimal yet rich and rich, this song is the closest thing to post-rock you’re likely to hear on a Relative Pitch release. “I love minimalism,” says Reilly.

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