Flying Nun Founder Regains Control Of Label

Iconic New Zealand label Flying Nun Records has landed back where it started.

The pioneering label's founder Roger Shepherd has taken ownership of Flying Nun from long-time parent Warner Music New Zealand, both parties confirmed today (Dec. 21). Financial terms were not disclosed.

Through the new arrangement, Warner Music NZ will continue to team with Flying Nun in the capacity as exclusive physical and digital distribution partner on the indie label's catalog and future releases.

Shepherd, a record-store worker in Christchurch, formed Flying Nun back in 1981. In the years that followed, Flying Nun would go on to carve out an identity as one of New Zealand's most influential labels with a roster of acts which included the Clean, the D4, Headless Chickens and Tall Dwarfs, Chris Knox, Straitjacket Fits and the Verlaines.

Flying Nun relocated to Auckland in 1988. Its status as an "independent" began to fade in 1990 when Australia's Mushroom Records took a 49% stake in the business. Shepherd cut his ties with the business in 1999. The following year, it was fully absorbed into the merged Festival Mushroom Records (FMR) operation. In 2005, Warner Music acquired the imprint as part of its purchase of FMR.

Shepherd is adamant the label will stay true to its roots. "It is a privilege and pleasure to once again be heading Flying Nun Records," commented Shepherd in a statement. "While the historic catalog will be maintained and promoted," he notes, "the label will continue to promote new and innovative New Zealand music."

Warner Music New Zealand GM Phil Howling added, "It is great to see this iconic label re-connected with its founder. Roger is one of the great pioneers of the New Zealand music scene and his expertise and passion is valued extremely highly by all that work with him."

The label celebrated its quarter-century in December 2006 with the release of the Flying Nun 25th Anniversary Box Set.

The Gordons - Future Shock 7" (1980)

The Future Shock EP shows all the same qualities of the later debut, with a slightly more lo-fi recording. The title track shows the bands original punk leanings, flying through a churning guitar and bass driven number at considerable speed with Parker’s nonsense lyrics punctuating the aggressive attack of the song. The closer, ‘Adults and Children’, is something of a kiwi punk classic. Pummeling guitar and bass riffs immediately allow Parker to scream maniacally over top. It makes for one hell of a great, gleeful pop number, on line with the Clean’s own ‘Tally Ho’.

Various Artists - Skulls Without Borders 10" (2009)

Super limited 10" compilation highlighting some've the more potent Alkanes bonding the scene at the moment. On side Carbon, Chickins (2/3rds FNU Ronnies + bud) wriggle around like Geisterfaher corroding in cheese whiz, Dan Melchior fuzz- belts a wry 'n savory take on ear benders & Puffy Areolas fuse Hawkwind & Tales Of Terror for a deathride down Hell's highway. Side Hydrogen starts off w/Tommy Jay & Friends shakin smoke via some Harrisburg calypso, Sic Alps blindside a Kevin Ayers cover & Kurt Vile/Violators make like Neil Young/Crazy Horse off the beach & tucked into a cannabinoid submarine. All tracks exclusive to this release.

Miles Davis - Filles de Kilimanjaro (1968)

Since it's billed as "Directions in Music by Miles Davis," it should come as little surprise that Filles de Kilimanjaro is the beginning of a new phase for Miles, the place that he begins to dive headfirst into jazz-rock fusion. It also happens to be the swan song for his second classic quintet, arguably the finest collective of musicians he ever worked with, and what makes this album so fascinating is that it's possible to hear the breaking point -- though his quintet all followed him into fusion (three of his supporting players were on In a Silent Way), it's possible to hear them all break with the conventional notions of what constituted even adventurous jazz, turning into something new. According to Miles, the change in "direction" was as much inspired by a desire to return to something earthy and bluesy as it was to find new musical territory, and Filles de Kilimanjaro bears him out. Though the album sports inexplicable, rather ridiculous French song titles, this is music that is unpretentiously adventurous, grounded in driving, mildly funky rhythms and bluesy growls from Miles, graced with weird, colorful flourishes from the band. Where Miles in the Sky meandered a bit, this is considerably more focused, even on the three songs that run over ten minutes, yet it still feels transitional. Not tentative (which In the Sky was), but certainly the music that would spring full bloom on In a Silent Way was still in the gestation phase, and despite the rock-blues-n-funk touches here, the music doesn't fly and search the way that Nefertiti did. But that's not a bad thing -- this middle ground between the adventurous bop of the mid-'60s and the fusion of the late '60s is rewarding in its own right, since it's possible to hear great musicians find the foundation of a new form. For that alone, Filles de Kilimanjaro is necessary listening.

Miles Davis - Live-Evil (1971)

Live-Evil is one of Miles Davis' most confusing and illuminating documents. As a double album, it features very different settings of his band — and indeed two very different bands. The double-LP CD package is an amalgam of a December 19, 1970, gig at the Cellar Door, which featured a band comprised of Miles, bassist Michael Henderson, drummer Jack DeJohnette, guitarist John McLaughlin, saxophonist Gary Bartz, Keith Jarrett on organ, and percussionist Airto. These tunes show a septet that grooved hard and fast, touching on the great funkiness that would come on later. But they are also misleading in that McLaughlin only joined the band for this night of a four-night stand; he wasn't really a member of the band at this time. Therefore, as fine and deeply lyrically grooved-out as these tracks are, they feel just a bit stiff — check any edition of this band without him and hear the difference. The other band on these discs was recorded in Columbia's Studio B and subbed Ron Carter or Dave Holland on bass, added Chick Corea and Herbie Hancock on electric pianos, dropped the guitar on "Selim" and "Nem Um Talvez," and subbed Steve Grossman over Gary Bartz while adding Hermeto Pascoal on percussion and drums in one place ("Selim"). In fact, these sessions were recorded earlier than the live dates, the previous June in fact, when the three-keyboard band was beginning to fall apart. Why the discs were not issued separately or as a live disc and a studio disc has more to do with Miles' mind than anything else. As for the performances, the live material is wonderfully immediate and fiery: "Sivad," "Funky Tonk," and "What I Say" all cream with enthusiasm, even if they are a tad unsure of how to accommodate McLaughlin. Of the studio tracks, only "Little Red Church" comes up to that level of excitement, but the other tracks, particularly "Gemini/Double Image," have a winding, whirring kind of dynamic to them that seems to turn them back in on themselves, as if the band was really pushing in a free direction that Miles was trying to rein in. It's an awesome record, but it's because of its flaws rather than in spite of them. This is the sound of transition and complexity, and somehow it still grooves wonderfully.

Miles Davis - Get Up With It (1974)

When Get Up with It was released in 1974, critics -- let alone fans -- had a tough time with it. The package was a -- by then customary -- double LP, with sessions ranging from 1970-1974 and a large host of musicians who had indeed played on late-'60s and early-'70s recordings, including but not limited to Al Foster, Airto, John McLaughlin, Reggie Lucas, Pete Cosey, Mtume, David Liebman, Billy Cobham, Michael Henderson, Herbie Hancock, Keith Jarrett, Sonny Fortune, Steve Grossman, and others. The music felt, as was customary then, woven together from other sources by Miles and producer Teo Macero. However, these eight selections point in the direction of Miles saying goodbye, as he did for six years after this disc. This was a summation of all that jazz had been to Davis in the '70s and he was leaving it in yet another place altogether; check the opening track, "He Loved Him Madly," with its gorgeous shimmering organ vamp (not even credited to Miles) and its elaborate, decidedly slow, ambient unfolding -- yet with pronounced Ellingtonian lyricism -- over 33 minutes. Given three guitar players, flute, trumpet, bass, drums, and percussion, its restraint is remarkable. When Miles engages the organ formally as he does on the funky groove that moves through "Maiysha," with a shimmering grace that colors the proceedings impressionistically through Lucas, Cosey and guitarist Dominique Gaumont, it's positively shattering. This is Miles as he hadn't been heard since In a Silent Way, and definitely points the way to records like Tutu, The Man with the Horn, and even Decoy when he re-emerged.

That's not to say the harder edges are absent: far from it. There's the off-world Latin funk of "Calypso Frelimo" from 1973, with John Stubblefield, Liebman, Cosey, and Lucas turning the rhythm section inside out as Miles sticks sharp knives of angular riffs and bleats into the middle of the mix, almost like a guitarist. Davis also moves the groove here with an organ and an electric piano to cover all the textural shapes. There's even a rather straight -- for Miles -- blues jam in "Red China Blues" from 1972, featuring Wally Chambers on harmonica and Cornell Dupree on guitar with a full brass arrangement. The set closes with another 1972 session, the endearing "Billy Preston," another of Davis' polyrhythmic funk exercises where the drummers and percussionists -- Al Foster, Badal Roy, and Mtume -- are up front with the trumpet, sax (Carlos Garrett), and keyboards (Cedric Lawson), while the strings -- Lucas, Henderson, and electric sitarist Khalil Balakrishna -- are shimmering, cooking, and painting the groove in the back. Billy Preston, the organist who the tune is named after, is nowhere present and neither is his instrument. It choogles along, shifting rhythms and meters while Miles tries like hell to slip another kind of groove through the band's armor, but it doesn't happen. The track fades, and then there is silence, a deafening silence that would not be filled until Miles' return six years later. This may be the most "commercial" sounding of all of Miles' electric records from the '70s, but it still sounds out there, alien, and futuristic in all the best ways, and Get Up with It is perhaps just coming into its own here in the 21st century.

Miles Davis - Miles Smiles (1966)

With their second album, Miles Smiles, the second Miles Davis Quintet really began to hit their stride, delving deeper into the more adventurous, exploratory side of their signature sound. This is clear as soon as "Orbits" comes crashing out the gate, but it's not just the fast, manic material that has an edge -- slower, quieter numbers are mercurial, not just in how they shift melodies and chords, but how the voicing and phrasing never settles into a comfortable groove. This is music that demands attention, never taking predictable paths or easy choices. Its greatest triumph is that it masks this adventurousness within music that is warm and accessible -- it just never acts that way. No matter how accessible this is, what's so utterly brilliant about it is that the group never brings it forth to the audience. They're playing for each other, pushing and prodding each other in an effort to discover new territory. As such, this crackles with vitality, sounding fresh decades after its release. And, like its predecessor, ESP, this freshness informs the writing as well, as the originals are memorable, yet open-ended and nervy, setting (and creating) standards for modern bop that were emulated well into the new century. Arguably, this quintet was never better than they are here, when all their strengths are in full bloom.

Eno Moebius Roedelius - After The Heat (1978)

Brian Eno's second album collaboration with Dieter Moebius and Hans-Joachim Roedelius of Cluster consists of slow-moving instrumentals full of repeated synthesizer sound patterns and sustained guitar notes in the ambient style familiar from Eno's collaborations with Robert Fripp and albums of his own, such as Discreet Music. (One song, "Broken Head," features recited vocals by Eno, and on another, "The Belldog," he sings. On "Tzima N'Arki," he sings backwards.)

Hans Joachim Roedelius - Durch die Wüste (1978)

The debut Roedelius album is an excellent showcase of the producer's talents in producing exquisite instrumental music for reflection. Though these tracks often stray from beatless space music (the opener "Am Rockzipfel" flits back and forth between electronic hard rock and space), the musical structures employed certainly suggest ambience, from the classical melodies of the title track to the gaseous atmosphere of "Glaubersalz."