“I’m always surprised when someone pays attention,” says Federico Ughi, co-founder of 577 Records, “because we’re the underground of the underground!” The self-appointed title is a joke, but it hints at both the label’s relatively low profile and—inadvertently—at the unifying sound running through all of their releases. The label, which is nearly two decades old, evades easy definition, producing experimental jazz that pushes beyond traditional boundaries.
577 Records was born from a series of house shows in Brooklyn’s Park Slope neighborhood in 2000, part of a shared project between Ughi and his friend and lable co-founder, NYC jazz legend Daniel Carter. The pair hosted small monthly shows in Ughi’s apartment—not because they lacked venues, but as a way “to create a DIY space we could manage, a safe place for musicians. Instead of going somewhere else, it was something we could do for ourselves. That’s still the platform we have: musicians come first,” says Ughi. In the following year, Ughi and Carter founded their label, which they named after their apartment number.
Ughi emphasizes the importance of the label’s fluid sound, explaining that the desire for constant evolution is the reason they work with artists from different backgrounds (“That’s where the interesting stuff happens,” he says.) That broad range not only keeps the sound of 577 fresh, but it’s also important to both the integrity and the survival of the genre. “Jazz has always been most alive when it’s relevant to the current moment,” Ughi says. “Otherwise, it becomes a classical music repertoire, detached from the present. We want to be connected to the present.” To do this, they’ve facilitated collaborations between traditional acoustic jazz artists and electronic musicians; they prioritize bringing new artists together and creating a space for experimentation.
Their label boasts a wide breadth of artists, many of whom they’ve met through friends; they’ve tried to expand their label organically, focusing on relationship-building during every step of the process. Ughi explains that they look for artists they can “grow with, to move forward together”—artists who are open to collaboration and exploration. “Usually we try to do our best with one project, and the proof that we succeeded is that someone from that band, from a different project will want to do another project with us,” says Ughi.
Since 2001, 577 Records has released over 50 albums—18 of which are available on vinyl—and has worked with dozens of artists. Both professional musicians themselves, Ughi and Carter wanted to build a label that would alleviate the antagonism that artists can occasionally feel toward their management. 577 Records gives all ownership rights to the musicians, and almost always share 100% of the profits.
“Invisibility,” the term Ughi used to describe the label’s knack for flying under the radar in the commercial music industry, is also a theme that filters into the way they discuss their work. Intentionally or not, many of the albums that Carter and Ughi have produced explore themes of invisibility, and the ways the unseen can be rendered visible—or at least detectable—through music. Guided by a mission to capture the ephemeral, to keep jazz relevant, and to foster a collaborative community of artists, the music 577 releases is timeless, masterful, and mystical.
Radical Invisibility is experimental jazz record at its finest. This album is mysterious and ambiguous, seeking to represent through song of a series of “invisible” cultural inspirations (from Getrude Stein to the African artists Katini weNyamombe and Gomukomu weSimbi). Though it employs deep saxophone, muted trumpet, and experimental electric guitar, the record is steered by Ughi’s drumming, which rises and crashes in waves. Guitarist Stelios Mihas reaches for particularly abstract sounds, offering sometimes chaotic patterns and highly manipulated guitar, while multi-instrumentalist Daniel Carter and bassist Irma Nejando gesture at more classical jazz styles.
Donald Sturge Anthony McKenzie II says that “music can change the world” and on Silenced (first volume) we hear it in practice. Immortalizing the lives of Sandra Bland, Renisha McBride, Malissa Williams, Timothy Russell, Samuel DuBose, Eric Garner, and Darrien Hunt, McKenzie offers both a tribute to their lives and a condemnation of police terror. The songs are sometimes somber and slow, other times angry, and, in certain moments, tentatively uplifting. McKenzie showcases a full spectrum of percussions and complex rhythms that sometimes border on cacophonous, gaining momentum with each bar.
New York United, a collaboration between Daniel Carter, Tobias Wilner of Blue Foundation, Djibril Toure, and Federico Ughi, presents a series of experimental pieces that conjure the diverse energies of New York City. Venturing from downtown Canal Street, uptown to 125th, and then back through Brooklyn’s Nostrand Avenue and Flatbush Avenue, the musicians create a transporting orchestral experience that imagines a New York through the lens of strangers and passing subway cars. These pieces incorporate elements of a classic New York avante-garde style, with phantasmal electronic manipulation. The record is improvised, musically complex, and feels like a fever dream.
Electric Telepathy is another spiritual-jazz masterpiece, a work reminiscent of the label’s founding tradition: improvisation between artists from different backgrounds to create deeply unique sounds. 577 mainstays Federico Ughi and Daniel Carter are joined by Patrick Holmes, Matthew Putnam, and Hilliard Greene on the third record from this group, following Telepathic Alliances and Telepatia Liquida. Careening between octaves, soaring melodies give way to chaotic riffs and gentle reprieves. The musicians weave songs together with a palpable sense of tension, handing lead lines off between instruments like they’re playing a game—or tapping into the collective unconscious alluded to in the title.
Broken Fall by Kid Millions and Sarah Bernstein marks another collaborative work by the duo, the second album they have released via 577 Records. They started working together in 2014, making music that is experimental, transcendental, and intense. Kid Millions maintains steady and transitional drum textures, while Bernstein’s voice occupies the main stage, at once haunting, indecipherable, and mesmerizing. The pair offers new interpretations of what spontaneous composition can sound like, drawing from liturgical influences as well as inspirations like Yoko Ono and Ornette Coleman.
BleySchool is a compositionally elegant ode to the legendary pianist Paul Bley. U.K. musicians Pat Thomas, Dominic Lash, and Tony Orrell emulate the playful ways that Bley construct and deconstruct melodies, and contribute their own musically complex improvisations to this five-song album. Using piano, double bass, and percussion, the trio lay a foundation of abstraction then pairs it with classical melodies, and bring Bley’s legacy to life.