Venus Records & CD Releases

Category: Music

Over the past four or five years have acquired many of these CD's and Vinyl Records from the Venus Label. The vinyl releases have been very sparse of late and they may not be producing Vinyl at this point in time. Most of mine are from Bill Charlap Trio or New York Trio. I can tell you that if jazz is your bag, then Venus is more than a worthwhile destination. Their list of jazz artists is second to none. Such as Archie Shepp, Eddir Higgins, Bucky Pizzarelli, Eric Alexander, Sir Roland Hanna and so many more greats on this label.

Venus Records is a Japanese jazz record label. It was founded in 1992 by Tetsuo Hara, who had worked as a producer for RCA Victor. It mostly works with a select group of artists from Italy, the United States, and Japan and uses a signature 24-bit mastering process, named "Hyper Magnum Sound," that produces "very powerful sound with strong presence". It is also known for its album covers, which use well-known photographers and at times feature art deco nudity.

Venus Records may be sparsely represented in North American record stores, though it has built quite a loyal following among jazz aficionados who frequent online music sources. Tetsuo Hara, the owner and founder of the label, has long been a jazz fan: "When I was a very young man, I listened to many 78-rpm records that my mother and father had of US Swing bands. Around the age of 16, I heard, and was very moved by, the historic Impulse recordings by John Coltrane and that was really important in getting me seriously involved in listening to jazz music."

Hara first worked for RCA Victor in Japan, then moved to Alfa. He met Todd Barkan when the former owner of San Francisco's Keystone Korner brought the master tapes of Bill Evans' final major engagement (at the Korner) to produce a boxed set for the label. The two men hit it off, so when Hara decided to launch his own record company in 1992, Barkan, a veteran of many decades in the business, was an obvious choice as a collaborator.

Hara came to New York City, where Barkan (who had relocated from San Francisco) introduced him to a number of artists. Hara recalled, "My first recordings were by Pharoah Sanders, Marion Brown, Lee Konitz and Claude Williamson. Since then, I've produced over 200 albums, many with the help of my friend Todd Barkan."

Hara's method of choosing artists is simple; he works only with his personal favorites. "I especially like piano trios with piano, bass and drums, as well as quartets adding saxophone or clarinet." He is a hands-on producer, working in concert with Barkan as co-producer. Hara chooses the songs and the artists for every session. Barkan's knowledge of studios and engineers (Katherine Miller has made valuable contributions for her audio skills) has been helpful, though he asserts that "Tetsuo makes all of the final decisions." Once recording is completed, Hara takes the music home to do the final remixing and mastering in his self-described Hyper Magnum Sound.

While the bulk of Venus artists are fairly well-known musicians to current jazz fans, there are sometimes a few surprises. Eddie Higgins, a veteran pianist, has been one of the label's most frequently recorded artists, with two dozen CDs as a leader. Hara explains, "I had very much enjoyed listening to some of Eddie Higgins' Sunnyside recordings from the early 1990s, including Eddie's beautiful album, Portrait in Black and White." Says Higgins, "I've recorded a lot for Venus with Jay Leonhart and Joe Ascione. I've been touring Japan every year since 1998. The tours help my Venus Records and vice versa."

Hara is a frequent visitor to Manhattan: "I travel to New York City three or four times a year to make recordings for Venus. While in New York, I try to find time in my busy schedule to go and hear artists at local clubs like Dizzy's and the Jazz Standard." Barkan has also introduced Hara to many artists in New York City, frequently accompanying him to hear them perform in various venues. Hara signed Ken Peplowski after hearing him at Dizzy's Club then produced an unusual session of him playing two separate interpretations of ten standards, one each on clarinet and tenor sax. That's not the kind of programming one would typically expect on a jazz album.

In addition to regularly recording his longtime favorites (including Higgins, Bill Charlap, David Hazeltine, Steve Kuhn and others), Hara is also adding new faces to his catalogue. "I am very excited about new Venus recordings that I have recently completed by the Brian Lynch Afro-Cuban Orchestra, the Derek Smith Trio, the John DiMartino Trio, Tessa Souter and Nicki Parrott."

The higher price of Japanese CD imports cause some collectors to hesitate, but purchasers of Venus releases have given the label high marks, though the lack of English liner notes is frustrating. Hara has licensed a few of his CDs to American labels for distribution, though most are available exclusively on Venus. But North America and Europe are not Hara's primary targets for sales: "The music that I record and produce for Venus Jazz Records only reflects the music that I most love to work with and listen to. Right now, we still do not know what the real size of the future audience is and what the sales potential and distribution possibilities are for Venus Jazz recordings outside of the Japanese market in the American and European jazz markets. Currently our market is almost entirely for consumption in the Japan. Hopefully, one day we will have enough distribution and sales in the US market to justify releasing Venus Records in the US market with English liner notes.

The use of female nudes on some Venus covers has caused a bit of controversy, limiting their marketing in stores and on some websites (one of which substituted the back cover to promote Kenny Werner's recent With a Song in My Heart) while several Venus artists have complained about their use. But Tetsuo Hara is convinced that his packaging is essential to his CDs. "Venus Jazz recordings reflect my total artistic concept of music, cover art and overall sound quality that I most prefer and choose. When these recordings appeal and resonate well with a lot of listeners in the world, that makes me very happy."

The Vinyl if you can find it is audiophile quality 180 gram pressings with archive protective inner sleeve. The jacket itself is very heavy paperboard. There is nothing in the presentation that is not first rate and what Audiophiles expect in the Vinyl medium.

The CD's are of the Digipak presentation and the Digipak is produced on heavy fiberboard, first rate packaging not often found at any price. The CD itself is enclosed in a archive protective inner- sleeve for present and future preservation. Once again the extra mile in the overall execution of CD presentation.

While SACD and DVA-A has been a total waste of time, money and effort. These CD's from Venus are clearly a vertical leap in CD playback. Not a lateral leap, but a musical experience one has to hear to fully appreciate thier recording process. The first Venus CD I bought was "The Things We Did Last Summer" with Bill Charlap - Piano, Jay Leonhart - Bass and Bill Stewart - Drums

Track Listing:

1. The Shadow Of Your Smile [ J. Mandel ](4:49)
2. The Things We Did Last Summer [ J. Styne ](6:33)
3. How Long Has This Been Going On ? [ G. Gershwin ](7:31)
4. How High The Moon [ M. Lewis ](7:45)
5. Mona Lisa [ J. Livingston ](3:35)
6. You'd Be So Nice To Come Home To [ C. Porter ](9:08)
7. It's Only A Paper Moon [ H. Arlen ](5:57)
8. When Your Lover Has Gone [ Einar A. Swan ](8:03)
9. As Time Goes By [ H. Hupfield ](5:44)

There are few moments in High End audio that are jaw dropping moments. All of us sitting around just engaged in idle converation, this CD broke that attention span in a heartbeat. Everyone was kicking back totally engaged on the music. No one had ever heard a CD like this one. Most commented this is what CD music should be, not the over processed dreck on the shelves today.

Get a couple of these and see if it doesn't raise your horizons in CD playback. I have no doubt you will have your own jaw dropping moments. These are well worth the search to acquire.