The History of A&M Records, Part Eight: Horizon Records

The History of A&M Records, Part Eight: Horizon Records

Written by Rudy Radelic

In 1975, A&M Records established a subsidiary jazz label called Horizon Records. John Snyder (who had previously worked with producer Creed Taylor) was the label’s creative director, and left in 1977. Tommy LiPuma took his place, and attempted to take the label into a “contemporary music” direction. After releasing 41 albums, A&M would shutter Horizon in 1979 because of declining sales. The Horizon label would go dormant for a spell, then would be reborn in 1984 as a spiritual music label in partnership with Word Distribution; this version of the label would shut down in 1987.

This article will highlight the jazz era of Horizon Records and feature a sampling of some of the artists who recorded for the label. Given the short life of Horizon, it is surprising to see such an array of jazz and other music on the label, as well as an impressive artist roster.

Quite a feather in their cap, Horizon was home to the 25th anniversary reunion of the classic Dave Brubeck Quartet featuring Paul Desmond, Joe Morello and Eugene Wright. While the album contained familiar Quartet tracks like “Take Five” and “Three To Get Ready,” Eugene Wright was a featured composer on this record with his “African Times Suite.” The album, save for one track, was recorded live in March, 1976 at the Interlochen Arts Academy in Interlochen, Michigan. Desmond also recorded an album for Horizon, as well as a duet album with Brubeck (Duets).


The Thad Jones/Mel Lewis Big Band had a home on Horizon for a handful of records. From the album New Life, here’s the track “Love and Harmony,” composed by Cecil Bridgewater.


Sounding like a cross between The Crusaders and Earth, Wind & Fire, the group Karma released two albums on Horizon, the better of the two being Celebration. In the group are some well-known studio musicians and singers including Ernie Watts, Oscar Brashear, Deniece Williams, Leon “Ndugu” Chancler, Chuck Rainey, and Syreeta Wright. This is “Kwanzaa.”


Dancing in Your Head was Ornette Coleman’s sole album on Horizon. This is “Theme From a Symphony (Variation 1)” which ran the entire length of Side One on the record. One of Coleman’s label mates on Horizon was Charlie Haden, who was an original member of the Ornette Coleman Quartet.


Guitarist Jim Hall recorded two albums for Horizon, and the album Commitment features a handful of well-known sidemen including Art Farmer, Ron Carter, Tommy Flanagan, and others. This is the track “Indian Summer.”


Even Chet Baker had an album on Horizon – You Can’t Go Home Again. Notable is the impressive list of sidemen on this record, including such musicians as Michael Brecker, John Scofield, Tony Williams, Hubert Laws, Don Sebesky, Kenny Barron, Ron Carter, Ralph McDonald, and Paul Desmond (for which this was his final recording session). This is the title track to the album, featuring Desmond with Baker.


A few of the Horizon Records titles remain out of print with no digital release, and this rarity is among them: The Revolutionary Ensemble’s The People’s Republic. The music on this album is avant-garde, experimental music, led by Leroy Jenkins who was a part of the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM). The video below begins with “New York” from the album.


The Japanese trio Yellow Magic Orchestra (bassist Haruomi Hosono, drummer Yukihiro Takahashi and keyboardist Ryuichi Sakamoto) had a hit with “Computer Game (Theme from ‘The Circus’)” on Horizon. (See John Seetoo’s interview with Ryuichi Sakamoto in Copper Issues 108 and 109.) It is one of the earliest recordings of synth-pop, and featured the Roland MC-8 Microcomposer, programmed by Hideki Matsutake. The album was notable in that there was an original release in Japan and Europe, whereas the American version on Horizon was remixed by Al Schmitt and dropped the final track, “Acrobat.”


Horizon did have occasional chart success. One of those occasions was Brenda Russell’s self-titled solo debut album, which reached No. 65 on the Billboard 200 albums chart, while the single “So Good, So Right” reached No. 30 on the Hot 100. Russell penned most of the songs on this record, and Rufus drummer Andre Fischer produced.


The final album on the jazz era of the Horizon label was Ben Sidran’s The Cat and The Hat, which Sidran dedicated to the memory of Blue Mitchell, Frank Rosolino and Eddie Jefferson. Again, the cast is a who’s who in jazz (among them Lee Ritenour, Steve Gadd, Mike Mainieri, Michael Brecker, Tom Scott, and Pete Christlieb), and Joe Henderson takes a solo on “Seven Steps to Heaven,” which closes out the album.


Others who would record albums for Horizon Records include David Liebman, Sonny Fortune, Ira Sullivan, Jimmy Owens, Don Cherry, Gerrie Niewood, Billy Hart, Seawind, David Grisman, and Dr. John.

A&M was home to another jazz label offshoot, which would evolve into its own separate label apart from A&M. We’ll investigate those in our next installment in this 60th Anniversary series.


Header image: Chet Baker, Horizon Records promotional photo.

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