Artists Releasing Two CDs — But Not For The Price Of One

Jury is out on whether Corea, Carter, Cary are shrewd to double their output.

Double your pleasure, double your fun. And we're not talking about gum.

In recent weeks, three artists have released two separate discs on the same label at the same time: saxophonist James Carter, pianist Chick Corea and pianist Marc Cary. And in July, pianist Joanne Brackeen may follow suit.

It's not a new marketing idea. Bruce Springsteen did it in 1992 with Human Touch and Lucky Town, both on Columbia. Pianist-singer Harry Connick Jr.released We Are In Love and Lofty's Roach Soufflé at the same time in 1990. Columbia marketed the former as a showcase for Connick's crooning; the latter accented his keyboard skills.

But now, the twin-release approach seems to be a trend.

On his own Stretch label, Corea released two discs, both solo piano works, on June 6: Solo Piano — Standards and Solo Piano — Originals. The question is, why didn't he release them as a double-disc set?

"This set of performances that these discs come from were structured so that I play a set of standards first, take an intermission, and then return and play a set of originals and music by Mozart, and so forth," the legendary keyboardist, who turned 59 on June 12, said. "In listening to the tapes, the way I wanted to present the music was as the concert went. Set 1 and set 2. Since I play fairly long sets, there's an hour or more of music on each CD. Rather than marketing it together, it would give the audience a choice of CDs. We'll see how the audience reacts."

Carter, 31, released his two discs, Chasin' the Gypsy and Layin' in the Cut, June 6 on Atlantic Records. With so much consolidation going on at major labels, it's quite a coup for Carter to have gotten the green light. Chasin' the Gypsy, featuring the title track (RealAudio excerpt), is an acoustic homage to guitarist Django Reinhardt. Layin' in the Cut, with the tune "Terminal B" (RealAudio excerpt), is electric funk.

"It was interesting to me, in light of the millennium thing, to have one foot in the past, in a musical sense, and another moving forward in time," Carter said. "I wanted to shake things up, and putting these two albums out at the same time was one way to do it."

Will Both Discs Sell?

But does shaking things up like this help sales? Brook Higdon, general manager at the corporate headquarters for the Olsson's Books and Records chain in Washington, D.C., isn't sure.

"If the artist puts out two totally different records, like a James Carter, then there is a chance that more fans will find out about the other record if they buy one," he said. "Chances are that both will wind up being bought. Any more than two records in a short time frame from even the big names usually won't move that well. When Wynton Marsalis put out that 12-disc series, at first there was a lot of interest and buzz, but it quickly died off."

Francois Grillot, buyer for jazz and blues at the Tower Records in New York, agreed that it's a crapshoot.

"I know so far that the acoustic James Carter record is doing much better than the electric. If labels want to do a double release, they need to get advance copies out to retailers early. As a buyer, I need that information so I can rely on my knowledge and judgment in ordering. For these records we're talking about, I only got either a copy of one of the discs, or none at all, with just an information sheet and a cover."

Discs With Lives of Their Own

Cary, 33, is a pianist who has learned on the bandstand from three of the masters: drummer Art Taylor and the singers Betty Carter and Abbey Lincoln. His trio album, Trillium, and his solo electric piano record, Rhodes Ahead, came out simultaneously on Jazzateria in March. The first disc features an acoustic group with Tarus Mateen on bass and Nasheet Waits on drums.

"I didn't want the records to distract one from another," Cary said. "That's why we didn't want to put them together in one record. They came to life at the same time, so let's put them out at the same time.

"I love the Fender Rhodes," he continued. "As a musician, I am inspired by lots of things. So it's not a phenomenon for me to visualize putting together these two records. The songs that are on each record can be played in my acoustic trio or on the Rhodes."

Jazzateria head Preston Baker offered his take on the dual CDs: "Who am I to tell Marc what he should or shouldn't do? He is such a creative artist that when we had this material ready to go, it just made sense to let people hear two of Marc's musical styles. We also knew that if we put out a single record with both electric and acoustic tunes, people would call it disjointed and inconsistent. Now they can't."

Cannibalizing Sales?

Brian Bacchus, director of A&R at Blue Note, spoke about the downsides of a double release.

"If we normally sell a hundred copies of an artist's new record, then naturally each record's individual sales will drop. You might save a little money since you advertise them both at the same time, but all in all, you really are competing against yourself, since the typical fan of an artist will buy one, not two, new discs from a younger artist. If a non-obsessed jazz fan comes into a store and has to choose between one of many new discs from somebody or a classic from Miles that they really need to have, you may be in trouble."

Arkadia Jazz head Bob Karcy, who is considering releasing the albums by Brackeen, acknowledges that to do so could be self-defeating.

"Yes, we may be competing against ourselves, but since one is a live quartet, and one is a solo recital, why not?" he said. "Also, since Brackeen has recently started recording for Arkadia (1999's Pink Elephant Magic), this puts out a loud message."