April 1999

Label Watch: Naim Records

Recordings on the British Naim label have several unique qualities, not the least of which is the company’s passion for capturing the essence of a performance on each release. According to Naim’s technical guru, Julian Vereker, who handles mastering, it’s the “human element” that is critical to him, which he defines as preserving the feel and ambiance of a live performance. Oftentimes, that means making a studio recording that even has an unintentional mistake or two¯as is sometimes heard on a live date.

“I’m inclined, quite often with the classical recordings, to actually leave in mistakes, provided the intention is good,” he said. “I want the people, the human beings. I want the smell of cigarette smoke in the atmosphere and I want the feel of hot bodies. The last thing I want is a perfectly made-up corpse. It’s a different philosophy, and I know it sometimes frustrates reviewers.”

Another unique quality is that Naim is also an established manufacturer of high fidelity equipment, and both the hardware and software branches of Naim share the same passion for recorded sound. The company makes speakers, receivers, CD players, cables, and anything else that makes the heart of an electronics junkie beat faster.

The label was born in late 1992 when Ken Christianson, a Naim dealer in Chicago, began making records for his friends, including bassist Charlie Haden, giving them tapes for their own use. Things grew from that humble start, and today the label releases six to eight new recordings a year in both classical and jazz formats. Christianson continues to serve as a recording engineer for Naim today.

“You can certainly call our catalog eclectic,” said Vereker. “I want variety in my life. I can’t listen to one type of music again and again. I don’t see why a label should stick to one sort of music.

I couldn’t listen to Charlie Haden every evening, as much as I enjoy his music. I’m more than happy to have a good dose of him twice a month. The same is true for all of our artists. If one is able to work with musicians and get a good result, then any sort of music can be made accessible by capturing the performance.”

Biggest hits for Naim have been recordings by acoustic guitarist Antonio Forcione, with his Dedicato release remaining on the Jazz FM charts for over a year in the UK. Haden and pianist Chris Anderson are also high on Naim’s hit list with their latest duet recording, None But the Lonely Heart. Also climbing on the charts is Anderson’s new release, a collaboration with vocalist Sabina Sciubba, titled You Don’t Know What Is. The group Union, with Laurence Hobgood on piano, Brian Torff on bass guitar, and drummer Paul Wertico, is also doing well, along with Forcione and Sciubba’s teaming on Meet Me in London. Forcione also appears on the best-selling releases Acoustic Mania and Acoustic Revenge.

With 400 Naim audio dealers throughout the world, it seemed natural to use them as free distribution outlets for the label, but Vereker soon discovered that most hi-fi people really aren’t that interested in music, causing Naim to seek outside distribution. “We are the exeception,” he said. “The guys who work here at Naim are all interested in music, but when you get to our dealers, there are only four or five who actually care about music.”

New releases are forthcoming from Anderson and Haden, as well as a solo release from vocalist Sciubba. Sax player Tom Gullion is also set for his debut release, as is Leo Green, the son of Benny Green, described by Vereker as “very enthusiastic.”

The Naim label has a staff of three:¯Vereker; Paul Stevenson, in charge of marketing; and Anna Tooth, general manager. Their biggest frustration turns out to be artwork, photography, and liner notes. “In the olddays,” said Vereker, “I went to gigs with a camera and got a friend from a magazine to write the words. Now, of course, people want a well known person to write the notes and it’s got to be a professional photographer; everbody is getting fussy about the way they look. The whole thing is getting more complicated.” Naim is big on the Internet and uses a secure server for online orders. Vereker also moderates Internet conference forums for both hi-fi and music consumers that typically receives 50,000 hits each month. More than 100 postings in a day are common, and he suspects that for every person who joins in the forum, another dozen are simply reading the comments.

"We will always continue trying to capture that special feeling that only a performance can bring,” he said.

“To me, music is a language, and musicians are reading the story a composer has written. I want our listeners to understand what the composer was trying to say and to hear it in a very natural and nonsterile way."

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