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The Jazz Side Of Thrill Jockey Records

The late saxophonist Fred Anderson recorded for Thrill Jockey with drummer Hamid Drake.
Jim Newberry
Courtesy of the artist
The late saxophonist Fred Anderson recorded for Thrill Jockey with drummer Hamid Drake.

The Chicago-based record label Thrill Jockey, led by founder Bettina Richards, has been presenting music on its own terms since 1992. Like any great independent label, it's difficult to identify the core "sound" of its releases, but its fans can easily identify its curatorial spirit. This is by design. "The way I listen to music, there are no categorical limits," Richards says.

While the label has released albums from bands outside of Chicago from time to time, its identity remains linked to and highly supportive of its local music scene. The rich Chicago underground has often exuded an all-inclusive identity. Take, for example, the AACM and the Art Ensemble of Chicago, with their embrace of experimental styles and "ancient to the future" mentality. These ideals have factored prominently into the design of the label. "People label genres to make them seem separate, when to me, these genres are not so separate at all," Richards says.

Though largely associated with rock, Thrill Jockey has embraced jazz and experimental music to a degree uncommon to its peers. Whether through jazz-influenced bands like Tortoise and The Sea and Cake, or in out-and-out jazz from legends like Fred Anderson and Bill Dixon, the label has always been concerned with improvised and creative music.

Thankfully, Thrill Jockey doesn't just cater to jazz audiences with middle-of-the-road sounds. For the label's 20th-anniversary year, here are five selections which can please even the most discerning jazz fans.

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Matt Fleeger