Whenever some of the most creative musical minds in the Twin Cities take the stage, a persistent question lurks in the air of even the most imaginative performances.
Why don't more people know about this music?
That's a particularly intriguing question for the region's jazz devotees, who can't help but notice the modest crowds for stellar concerts in the Twin Cities and its largely unheralded jazz musicians.
Key obstacles include the artists' lack of exposure to a wide audience and the public's limited access to their recordings. Anyone who doesn't go to a show likely won't have a chance to buy a CD, or know what to look for on the Internet.
To help overcome them, the leaders of five modern jazz groups have formed Shifting Paradigm Records, a new label that aims to give artists greater visibility in the Twin Cities, and nationally.
The bands include the Atlantis Quartet, Fat Kid Wednesdays, the Bryan Nichols Quintet, the Graydon Peterson Quartet and the Zacc Harris Group. All will perform Saturday at a launch party for the label and its website at Jazz at Studio Z in St. Paul.
"We came together because there is strength in numbers," said Harris, a guitarist and member of the Atlantis Quartet who also leads his own ensemble. "By uniting our various groups, we are giving ourselves more visibility, more credence, more opportunity. Our hope is that the label will serve to better promote our music in a number of ways."
Among them is attracting the attention of national writers who likely would notice the strength of several bands working in concert to promote the music.
"In the end, the music will have to speak for itself, something we are confident of with the strength of our roster," Harris said. "But the added connections should help with the difficult part of getting someone to spend the time listening."
Shifting Paradigm Records also will offer consumers higher quality audio files with more artwork and access to lead sheets and scores through the secure third-party site Shoplocket. By doing so, the musicians aim to bypass iTunes, Amazon and other services, which take a large cut of download sales.
To start, the label will offer the following albums via its website: Atlantis Quartet: Expansion (2013), Lines in the Sand (2011), Animal Progress (2009), Graydon Peterson Quartet: self-titled debut (2013), Zacc Harris Group: The Garden (2012), Bryan Nichols Quintet: Bright Places (2011), Fat Kid Wednesdays: Set One (2001).
From Feb. 15 to 28, all of the albums are available for download through for $6.
The concert Saturday also will serve to remind people that the region's creative musicians often collaborate with each other, on stage and in the recording studio. The label will be an extension of that work, said Nichols, a pianist.
"We all thought it was a good idea for people to know that though we may be different ensembles playing takes on music, we have enough similarities -- musically and [in terms of] personnel -- that it made sense for us to unite and do something," he said.
That's particularly important now that St. Paul's Artists' Quarter has closed and the groups are all playing a little less and in different venues.
"I think we all hope it provides more exposure, and certainly some cross-exposure between bands," Nichols said of the new label. "If nothing else, people will be able to take a look and get a solid glimpse at our music scene that might be harder to find otherwise."
If You Go
What: Launch party for Shifting Paradigm Records
Where: Jazz at Studio Z, 275 E. Fourth Street, Suite 200, St. Paul
When: 4:30 to 10 p.m., Saturday
Tickets: $10. Children 12 and under admitted free
5 p.m. - Zacc Harris Group
6 p.m. - Bryan Nichols Quintet
7 p.m. - Atlantis Quartet
8 p.m. - Fat Kid Wednesdays
9 p.m. - Graydon Peterson Quartet