When Irv Kratka and Eric Kriss decided to found a new jazz label, Inner City Records in 1976, they seemed the perfect partnership. Irv Kratka was music industry veteran, who was the CEO of MMO Music Group. What he didn’t know about the music industry, wasn’t worth knowing. Similarly, producer Eric Kriss had a wealth of experience to draw upon. Inner City Records looked like a musical marriage made in heaven.

And so it proved. By 1979, Inner City Records was voted Record Label Of The Year by International Jazz Critics Poll. Inner City Records’ star was in the ascendancy.

Since 1976, Inner City Records had established a reputation for releasing not just jazz, but much more avant-garde releases. This set Inner City Records apart from other labels.

Not many labels who were releasing albums by The Art Ensemble Of Chicago and Sun Ra, alongside releases by Heldon, The Jeff Lorber Fusion, Jean Luc Ponty, François Jeanneau, Spheroe and bluesmen Memphis Slim and Roosevelt Sykes. Inner City Records seemed to take pride on the eclecticism of its roster. They were releasing the music of the past and present, alongside the music of the future. This made them a popular label by 1979.

Given the eclecticism of its roster, record buyers of all ages and backgrounds bought Inner City Records’ releases. The label appealed to every type of jazzer. From those who preferred the classic jazz sound; to those who favoured new fusion sound; and the more adventurous record buyers who enjoyed the avant-garde and experimental releases, Inner City Records had something for everyone. It looked like Irv Kratka and Eric Kriss had a success story on their hands.

Just two years after winning the Record Label Of The Year award, the Inner City Records was over by 1981. The label had released around sixty labels between 1976 and 1981. Thirty-five years after Inner City Records shut its doors for the last time, these albums are highly prized among record collectors.

Especially in London, where DJs in the underground dance clubs of Soho and Covent Garden pepper their sets with tracks from Inner City Records’ back-catalogue. This includes London based DJ Kev Beadle, a stalwart of the capital’s underground music scene. 

Recently, the veteran DJ compiled Kev Beadle Presents The Best Of Inner City Records for BBE Music. This sixteen track compilation will be released on the 18h March 2016. Kev Beadle Presents The Best Of Inner City Records is an eclectic compilation fearing contributions from Judy Roberts, Janet Lawson Quintet, Tom Lellis, The Jeff Lorber Fusion, Eddie Jefferson, Kellis Ethridge and Charlie Mariano. As you’ll realise, it’s a truly eclectic collection of tracks. 

Opening Kev Beadle Presents The Best Of Inner City Records, is Hunt Up Wind, the title-track from Hiroshi Fukumura’s 1978 collaboration with Sadao Watanabe. Hunt Up Wind was recorded in Tokyo in June 1978, and features an all-star band. Its rhythm section featured drummer Harvey Mason, bassist Chuck Rainey and guitarist Cornell Dupree. Combined with for Hiroshi Fukumura’s keyboards and Sadao Watanabe’s saxophone, a sultry slice of jazz-funk unfolds. 

In 1979, The Judy Roberts Band released their eponymous debut album. By 1980, Judy Roberts was about to release her debut solo album The Other World on Inner City Records. One of the album’s highlights was the title-track, where soul meets fusion. It’s the perfect showcase for Judy’s vocal and keyboard skills. Adding the finishing touch, is a guitar masterclass from Neal Seroka. 

A year later, Judy Roberts released her sophomore album, Nights In Brazil in 1981. It featured the beautiful ballad Never Was Love, where fusion, Latin jazz and soul combine. It’s an irresistible combination that shows Judy Roberts’ versatility.

For three years, Japanese jazz trumpeter Terumaso Hino called Inner City Records home. In 1979, he released released what many regard as his finest album for Inner City Records, City Connection. Among the album’s highlights were Send Me Your Feelings, a soulful slice of jazz-funk. Quite different is Samba De-La Cruz. It’s an ambitious fusion of Latin jazz and jazz funk. It features a blistering, almost free jazz trumpet solo from Terumaso Hino. These two tracks show two very different sides to one of Japan’s finest jazz trumpeters, Terumaso Hino.

When Inner City Records signed the Janet Lawson Quintet, they saw a group who were capable of helping transform jazz’s ailing fortunes. The reason for this was Janet Lawson. She sounded as if she was descended from Ella Fitzgerald and Sarah Vaughan. Others compared Janet to Anita O’Day. The reason for this was her diction and interpretation. Janet didn’t just sing songs, she lived them. That’s apparent on the Janet Lawson Quintet’s eponymous debut album. It was released in 1981, but failed commercially. That’s despite songs of the quality of So High, which feature the Janet Lawson Quintet in full flight. It’s an impressive sound, and the perfect introduction the multitalented and versatile Janet Lawson Quintet.

Having released their eponymous debut album in 1977, Having released The Jeff Lorber Fusion returned a year later with their sophomore album Soft Space. It marked the coming of age of The Jeff Lorber Fusion. That was the case from the opening track The Samba, which features Chick Corea on Minimoog. Stealing the show, is Terry Layne’s saxophone as fusion meets Latin jazz. Curtains with its sultry, summery sound is another track that epitomises everything that’s good about fusion circa 1978.

Just like the Janet Lawson Quintet, Tom Lellis was billed as the future of jazz when he released his eponymous debut album in 1981.This was no surprise. Tom Lellis a talented singer, songwriter and pianist who had  produced his eponymous debut album. It featured four songs penned by Tom Lellis and six cover versions. One of the cover versions was Lucky Southern, one of two songs on the album written by Keith Jarrett. Lucky Southern was the perfect showcase for Tom Lellis skills as a pianist and vocalist. Sadly, when the album was released, Tom’s fusion of contemporary jazz and post bop failed commercially. As a result, there was no followup to Tom Lellis, which is another hidden gem in the Inner City Records’ back-catalogue.

By the time Helen Merrill released Something Special in 1978, she had been releasing albums since 1954. Helen Merrill had released her eponymous debut album in 1954. Twenty-four years later, and she had lost none of her enthusiasm for music. Something Special had been recorded by a small band of jazz veterans, including Ron Carter and Thad Jones. They provided the backdrop for Helen Merrill’s vocal jazz. One of the album’s highlights was Vera Cruz which is Something Special from Helen Merrill.

Joe Lee Wilson was thirty-nine when he released his debut album Livin’ High Off Nickels And Dimes in 1974. Before that, Joe Lee Wilson had featured on several Archie Shepp albums. In 1976, Joe Lee Wilson was about to release his third album, Hey Look At You on Inner City Records. It wasn’t a new album. Far from it. 

The songs that became Hey Look At You were recorded during two days in November 1969. For seven years, this modal jazz album had lain unreleased. That’s until Inner City Records took a chance on Hey Look At You. One of the tracks that was perfect for Joe Lee Wilson’s gospel roots and three octave baritone vocal, was Return Of The Prodigal Son. Joe Lee Wilson delivers an impassioned soulful vocal that’ll make you want to hear from of his impressive three octave baritone vocal.

In 1977, Eddie Jefferson released his second album for The Main Man, his second album for Inner City Records. By then, Eddie Jefferson was fifty-nine, and a vastly experienced vocalist. He had invented vocalese, where lyrics are added to an instrumental. However, Jeannine where Eddie Jefferson delivers a vocal masterclass. His timing and diction are perfect, before he seamlessly switches to a scat on what’s one of the highlights of The Main Man.

Kellis Ethridge released his one and only album Tomorrow Sky, in 1981. Tomorrow Sky featured Quickie Nirvana, a genre-melting track. From jazz-funk, the track heads in the direction of smooth jazz and later fusion. It’s a magical musical journey from Kellis Ethridge.

Polish jazz vocalist Urszula Dudziak’s career begin in the fifties, but in 1973, she moved to America. Within two years, Urszula Dudziak was signed to Arista where she released two albums. By 1979 Inner City Records was home to Urszula Dudziak. Her debut for Inner City Records was Future Talk, which featured Shenkansen. It’s an innovative marriage of free jazz and fusion, which is the best track on Kev Beadle Presents The Best Of Inner City Records.

Continuing the cosmopolitan nature of the compilation, is Pandora, a track from Argentine keyboardist and vocalist Carlos Franzetti. Pandora featured on Carlos Franzetti’s 1981 sophomore album Galaxy Dust. Elements of jazz-funk and fusion combine on Pandora, where Carlos Franzetti cut loose, and enjoy the opportunity to showcase their versatility and considerable talents.

Closing Kev Beadle Presents The Best Of Inner City Records is Charlie Mariano’s To An Elfin Princess. This is a track from the album October. Although October was released in 1978, the album had been released a year earlier in 1977, on the German label Contemp Records. October was produced by German producer Kurt Renker; while a band of German, American and Indian musicians featured the Charlie Mariano. The American jazz saxophonist is at his most innovative and inventive on To An Elfin Princess, an eight minute fusion epic. Kev Beadle it seems, has decided to close this sixteen track compilation on a high.

The sixteen tracks Kev Beadle Presents The Best Of Inner City Records are a suitably eclectic selection of tracks. That’s fitting, as the music Inner City Records’ released was eclectic. They weren’t a label who stuck to one genre. Instead, Inner City Records released everything from avant-garde and contemporary jazz to free jazz, fusion  and jazz-funk right through to modal jazz, soul-jazz and vocal jazz. Each of these genres are represented on Kev Beadle Presents The Best Of Inner City Records, which will be released on BBE Music on 18th March 2016. It’s the perfect primer for anyone who wants an introduction to Inner City Records. However, this could be the start of an expensive journey.

Having heard Kev Beadle Presents The Best Of Inner City Records, most people will want to hear more from the artists on the compilation. While albums like the Janet Lawson Quintet and The Jeff Lorber Fusion have recently been reissued, many of the other albums have yet to be rereleased. Original vinyl copies of some of the albums don’t come cheap. So anyone looking to collect every album released by Inner City Records better have deep pockets. That’s a great shame.

During its lifetime, Inner City Records released many groundbreaking albums. Especially among the avant-garde releases. Sadly, they’re prized items among collectors, so the nearest most people will come to these rarities is on Kev Beadle Presents The Best Of Inner City Records. That’s until another label decides to release some of those groundbreaking releases. Until then, Kev Beadle Presents The Best Of Inner City Records is the perfect introduction into Inner City Records.












  1. Hello ! Glenn Zottola here in Los Angeles. I recorded a lot for Inner City and Irv Kratka. Did you buy the label when he recently retired ?

    Glenn Zottola – email:

    • Hi Glenn.

      Thanks for your comments.

      I only reviewed the Inner City Records’ compilation. BBE released the compilation, and they’ll have licensed the tracks.

      I’d be interested to hear about your time at Inner City Records and the rest of your career. Maybe I could do an article on you?


  2. Victor

    Hello Derek, I was wondering if you could tell me who mastered/remastered this compilation. I can’t find any information on that. Thank you in advance.

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