Basin Street Records, home to a slew of New Orleans artists, released only one new album in 2016, and only one so far this year. But that modest pace is about to change.
To celebrate its 20th anniversary, the label has planned a plethora of new projects. The centerpiece is “A Beautiful World,” a sprawling CD featuring trumpeters Kermit Ruffins and Irvin Mayfield and dozens of special guests, including George Porter Jr., Cyril Neville, the Rebirth Brass Band, vocalist Haley Reinhart and actor Wendell Pierce.
On original compositions and standards, Mayfield and Ruffins “look at the past, present and future of New Orleans music,” said Basin Street founder Mark Samuels. “It tells a good story, for the label and the city.”
On Friday evening, Basin Street throws itself a multivenue party for “A Beautiful World.” The festivities start at 6 p.m. with an album listening party and signing at the Louisiana Music Factory (421 Frenchmen St.), before moving a block away to the Blue Nile (532 Frenchmen St).
Kermit Ruffins & the Barbecue Swingers fire up a short set at the Blue Nile at 7 p.m., followed by Mayfield’s Cirque du Freque, an electronic R&B collaboration with pianist Ronald Markham and multi-instrumentalist John Diaz-Cortes. Ruffins and other special guests will sit in, showcasing material from “A Beautiful World."
Following a brief set by Rihanna-style pop singer Sarayah, a new Basin Street signee, the show will repeat starting at 11 p.m.
That Mayfield and Ruffins are featured on Basin Street’s flagship 20th anniversary release makes sense. They are the label’s most-recorded artists. Ruffins has 12 Basin Street albums, plus various singles, EPs and collections. Mayfield has 10 albums of his own, another five with Los Hombres Calientes, a DVD and a lavish coffeetable book, “New Orleans Jazz Playhouse,” that contains seven CDs of live recordings.
The trumpeters’ friendship of more than two decades dates to when Ruffins recruited a teenaged Mayfield to play piano on a European tour. “They bring out the best in each other,” Samuels said. On the new album, “Irvin figured out what would really make Kermit shine.”
Mayfield, working from his base at Esplanade Studios, produced “A Beautiful World.” “He put in the extra effort to make it happen in a beautiful way,” Samuels said. “He far exceeded my expectations.”
Strings and a big horn section dress up arrangements. The song “Mystic” consists of 130 individual tracks of music.
The New Orleans Convention & Visitors Bureau helped underwrite the sizable production costs of “A Beautiful World” and will help with marketing and promotion. The album is intended to mark not only Basin Street’s 20th anniversary, Samuels said, but New Orleans’ tricentennial in 2018. The C&VB’s support “allowed us to make something that was much more special than we had planned.”
Over the past 20 years, Basin Street has weathered several “disruptions” in the music industry that have made selling recorded music increasingly difficult. Still, Samuels believes that investing in quality recordings is worthwhile. Licensing them for movies, TV shows and other mediums provides a fairly consistent alternative source of revenue.
“And the consumption of music is as great as ever,” he said. “But I wish people would buy more CDs and downloads to support artists. That assures more music from them.”
“A Beautiful World” leads a parade of fresh product from Basin Street.
The company has published its first graphic novel, “The One & Twos: Kermit, Irvin and the Golden Record, Vol. 1.” The book includes a download code for “A Beautiful World.”
The very first Basin Street release, Kermit Ruffins’ 1997 concert recording “The Barbecue Swingers Live,” has been reissued on heavy green vinyl. The album, recorded onstage at Tipitina’s, was previously available only on CD and cassette.
“Putting out the first record we ever did on vinyl for the first time brings back a lot of memories,” Samuels said. “It’s a fun album.”
Basin Street recently signed long-running trombone-powered funk/rock band Bonerama. “Hot Like Fire,” the first Bonerama disc for Basin Street, drops Oct. 6. Sarayah’s debut, “Feel the Vibe,” is out Oct. 27.
Other projects on the horizon include digital-only releases of complete and best-of collections from Ruffins and Mayfield, as well as digital releases of five sets of live recordings by Basin Street artists from the Little Gem Saloon during the 2017 New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival.
A new Jason Marsalis album is due in January. Clarinetist Michael White and trumpeter Jeremy Davenport, both longtime Basin Street artists, have been given the go-ahead to record new albums.
“It was very important that our milestone year be a good one,” Samuels said. “We wanted to make a splash this year.”