Recording Jazz Combos, June 1997FIVE TALES BY THREE WRITERS 5/17/2004 8:00 AM Eastern
THE JAZZ PASSENGERS AND DEBORAH HARRY GET “INDIVIDUALLY
Writing about music is like dancing about architecture. I don’t know who said that originally, but those are the words that come to mind when trying to describe the Jazz Passengers. How can you pigeonhole a group that combines lounge-y vibraphone, a moody, low sax, a violin as part of the horn section, Dixieland trombone playing, and then rearranges everything so the vibes are where you expect the sax to be, the trombone becomes as soft and cool as Chet Baker’s trumpet, and the sax delivers a hilarious, theatrical punch line?
How can you pigeonhole a jazz combo, anyway, if the sultry and larger-than-life Deborah Harry is the lead singer? But why bother? The Jazz Passengers know what they’re about; they play avant-garde jazz music that at once pays tribute to and deconstructs different jazz forms, from New Orleans-style to big band to bebop to lounge, never losing the melody, and never losing their sense of humor. And there’s no better introduction to the Jazz Passengers than their latest album, Individually Twisted, on 32 Records. This record really shows what the band can do, but it’s a little more accessible than their previous recordings, in part because of the album’s producers.
“When you have a band that wants to reach a wider audience,” explains album co-producer Adam Dorn, “and they have a piece that’s 28 minutes long called ‘Nazi Samba…’ I mean, I love these guys, and that song happens to be brilliant, but you’re going to limit yourself to the same 1,500 people who bought your records over and over if you keep it way avant-garde all the time.”
“This record is everything in terms of what the band is and does,” adds the other co-producer (and Adam Dorn’s father), Joel Dorn. “We didn’t change anything, we reined it in just a little. I always try to work with people who already have something and then work with what they have to make a record that’s more focused, that heightens what they do.”
Joel Dorn, who has certainly worked with plenty of artists who “have something” (Leon Redbone, Roberta Flack, Les McCann, etc.), first became acquainted with the Jazz Passengers at the request of the band’s manager, George Gilbert. “I went down to see them at The Knitting Factory, and in 30 seconds I knew I wanted to produce them. I called Adam and said, ‘Next time they appear, you’ve got to go see them,’ and he felt the same way.”
Adam Dorn is a bass player and keyboard programmer who has worked on Marcus Miller-produced records for Luther Vandross, and a variety of international artists. “There’s a certain craziness about the band that’s just a turn-on,” he says. “We just looked at each other and said, ‘We love this.’”
Photo: Steve Jennings
For Adam Dorn, it was gig number one as a producer, and so it was the father and son team’s first co-production. They worked with veteran Jazz and rock engineer Joe Ferla in Sonalyst Studios, Connecticut, which is one of Ferla’s two favorite facilities. “Sonalyst is an exact replica of Power Station Studio A [now Avatar Studios], except, instead of the vintage Neve board that the Power Station had in the city, they put in a Neve VR,” says Ferla.
“The main room has a vaulted 35-foot ceiling, and there are isolation rooms. I don’t want to call them booths, because they are actually large rooms with a sound, and one of them has a little cathedral ceiling. And then there’s a vocal booth on the side and another booth behind. There are sliding glass doors between each space, so that you can enclose each room. I’m not going to tell you that there’s 100 percent isolation, but it’s pretty good. You’ll have the isolation in the mix to be able to EQ an instrument without affecting the sound of another.”
The layout at Sonalyst helped Ferla immeasurably with the Jazz Passengers. “I really utilized all of those rooms,” he says. “I had the drums [E.J. Rodriguez] in one of the rooms in the back, totally isolated. In another room, in the back, I had the vibes [Bill Ware] and the upright bass [Brad Jones], and I had them baffled off from each other. In the main room, I had trombone [Curtis Fowlkes], saxophone [Roy Nathanson] and violin [Rob Thomas]. And Debbie was in the vocal booth. So this was a live recording, but everybody was separate except for the horn section—the violin being part of the horn section.”
Ferla says that one of the challenges this band poses is how to capture the vibraphone, which is a big part of the Jazz Passengers’ sound. “It doesn’t particularly cut through loud horns,” he explains. “It’s difficult to record. So we used two mics, but we also had a DI setup going through a stereo Jazz Chorus amplifier, which was miked in stereo with two 414s and had an AMS digital delay for chorusing. So the directs, the mics, the mics on the amplifier and the chorusing were all combined to two tracks in stereo, and I was able, with the mixture, to get the solid, centered pitch of the instrument.
“The other big challenge was the violin,” Ferla continues. “The violin acts as part of the horn section, but a violin is not anywhere near as loud as a trombone or a saxophone. Rob had a small amplifier that he likes to use, so we miked that amp and had the amp behind him—as if he were onstage—so that he could hear and be of equal volume to the sax and the trombone in the room. There was also a direct taken, and there was a microphone on the instrument so I could get some acoustic sound out of it.” The instrument mic Ferla used was a Beyer M88. “It’s not a mic that I would put on a violin in a string section or in a solo situation,” Ferla says, “but I needed isolation, so I had to use a hypercardioid mic. It’s a very directional microphone, so I could get some of that bow sound, some of the rosin, some of the tone from the wood.”
Roy Nathanson’s exciting sax playing also required an unusual setup. “He moves around a lot, so one microphone was not covering him,” Ferla recalls. “I put a pair of U47s on him—one pointing up and one pointing down—so that as he tipped back and the bell went up, the higher mic got it, and as he bent forward the lower mic got him. I don’t believe I’ve ever had to do this for anyone else, but I didn’t want him to feel intimidated by the recording process; I wanted him to feel like he could just play and not think about the microphone.”
For Deborah Harry’s voice, Ferla used an AKG C-12 mic. “It’s a great vintage tube mic that sounded nice and rich on her,” he says. “I like to do it with the microphone—choose the mic and place it, and if the sound isn’t right, change the position of the mic or replace it. That’s what I’ll always do before I put an equalizer on. I try to go for a big sound, a lushness and warmth and natural timbre to the sound of each instrument.”
The one part of the production that Ferla did not record was vocals on two songs that feature Elvis Costello. He sings one of his own compositions, the swinging “Aubergine,” and a comic, sexy duet with Deborah Harry called “Doncha Go Way Mad.” Those vocals were recorded later at Electric Lady Studios by engineer Jay Militscher when Costello was in New York while on tour with The Attractions. (Ferla was in New York, but busy in another room at Electric Lady recording David Sanborn.)
“This is an absolute credit to [Costello’s] work ethic, professionalism and brilliance as an artist,” Joel Dorn says. “We did his vocal on ‘Aubergine’ and the duet with Debbie in maybe three hours. That was all the time he had. The one day he was supposed to have off he’d ended up doing a special for VH1. He was exhausted from the tour, exhausted from a 15-hour taping, and he was a little rough at first, but then he just knocked it out. Boy, is he a pro.”
“He’s also the only human I’ve ever seen short out an 87 with his spit,” laughs Adam Dorn. “He warned us. He has a gap in his teeth, and he said, ‘You know, I’ve got this problem,’ and I said, ‘Yeah, yeah, yeah,’ and the next thing, eeeerhh.”
“It was great working with him and Debbie,” Joel Dorn says. “The whole thing was just fun. Years ago, when I would record friends like Roland Kirk or Les McCann or Fathead [Newman], the dates were always fun. But that time’s kind of been over for me because I’ve been doing mostly boxed sets and reissues. This reminded me of when I was really in the middle of it in the ’60s and ’70s, when I was producing 20 or 25 albums a year. And I hope people get the feeling off this record that the musicians put into it. It’s one of those records that’s different but pleasant; it’s different in an appealing way. These people have such a command of what they do, and if that comes across, we’re happy.”
SQUIRREL NUT ZIPPERS: CRAZY NAME, HOT JAZZ
Long before it became serious, cerebral music enjoyed by cool customers in smoke-filled coffeehouses, jazz was something you could kick up your heels, dance and get down and dirty to.
Its roots were in New Orleans, where Dixieland and ragtime were pounded out of clubs and brothels. Squirrel Nut Zippers, a Mammoth Records band out of North Carolina, embrace this element of jazz, as well as other early forms of the genre, with both playfulness and passionate commitment. Their second album, Hot, has not only won over fans of old-style jazz, but has become a left-of-center hit with college and alternative music listeners. The Zippers played for President Clinton’s inauguration (the 21st Century Ball, and they headlined MTV’s Rock the Vote inauguration party) and also performed at the Summer Olympics, as well as landing repeat performances on NPR’s Morning Edition and Prairie Home Companion.
Appropriately enough, the group cut its sophomore CD in the cradle of jazz, New Orleans, at Kingsway Recording Studio. Mike Napolitano worked as the primary engineer, with additional help from Brian Paulsen.
“Kingsway is a world unto itself,” Napolitano says, “and a really great place to work. There are no clocks anywhere, or phones and TVs everywhere. All that is cut to a bare minimum. You don’t know what day it is, or if it’s day or night. There’s nothing to focus on other than creating. It’s so conducive to doing that, too. There are so many instruments laying around that are inspiring.
“We had to choreograph the recording of each song to get a balance,” Napolitano continues. “Tracks like, ‘Put a Lid On It,’ were basically one microphone for the whole band, and two mics for the drum set. Obviously, since there was one microphone controlling the whole band, we would do takes where we would practice the movement of individuals toward or away from the microphone, to correctly get their levels. If there was a part where the acoustic guitar got a little louder, we would build up steps of phone books, so he could walk up and get the sound hole higher toward the microphone. It was crazy, but once we got everybody’s moves down, that would be the take that would get on the record.
“For almost everything, we used two Sony C-37s on the drums, in an X/Y pattern out front, about six to 10 feet away. The bass was sequestered away as much as possible with baffles. I generally used a [Neumann] 47 to capture the vocal and remaining bandmembers’ performance. Toward the end of the project, extra mics were placed in front of things, like a safety back-up, but they never got used during mix.
“At the most, we used eight mics at any single time. Some songs had an overdub or two. So whenever I miked anything for an overdub, I used two mics to simulate the fact that they played live. There would be one close mic, and one distant mic, to emulate the effect created by the original three mics.
“We used a bunch of different mic pre’s, including some that were in the board, and basically we just went from microphone to mic pre through a compressor and straight into the tape machine. There’s obviously no subbing of channels or anything like that, since some of the songs only used three mics.
“The Squirrel Nut Zippers all have such a wonderful chemistry,” Napolitano adds. “No two people have the same job. And everybody sort of covers a different musical area. They are amazing musicians, and very creative people, whose influences are a little older than most. Jazz conjures up such a serious tone when you usually say it, but that is not what that music originally sounded like. It wasn’t this ultra-serious jazz that we are so accustomed to hearing now. The original jazz was wild, crazy music.”
The Squirrel Nut Zippers’ Hot beautifully captures that original jazz spirit. And as for the name, it comes from an old-time brand of chewy peanut-flavored sweets that are still made in Massachusetts. Now you know.
NOW IS THE TIME FOR CHARLIE HADEN
One of jazz’s most vital contributors is bassist and composer Charlie Haden, a monumental talent whose emotive facility on bass places him among greats like Charles Mingus, Ray Brown and Ron Carter. Haden was a founding member of the groundbreaking Ornette Coleman Quartet, and over the years, has appeared on over 400 releases.
While Haden has made his biggest mark as a jazz bassist, his range of recording credits extends to artists like Rickie Lee Jones, James Cotton, Ginger Baker and Beck. You could say that Haden’s musical ecumenicalism reflects his ongoing passion for human rights issues, which in turn has found focus in projects like the acclaimed late-’60s ensemble, the Liberation Music Orchestra. Art and life have been seamlessly intertwined throughout Haden’s career. One of Haden’s most recent projects is Beyond The Missouri Sky, a dialog between Haden and Pat Metheny that evokes the expanse of the American Heartland. As of this writing, the album was Number One on the Billboard jazz chart.
Ten years ago, at the urging of his wife and co-producer Ruth, Haden formed Quartet West. The intent was to provide Haden with a hometown, L.A.-based band when he wasn’t on the road doing other projects. Besides Haden, the Quartet features the considerable talents of Ernie Watts (tenor saxophone), Alan Broadbent (piano) and Larance Marable (drums). Since its inception ten years ago, Quartet West has garnered an amazing array of accolades, including five Grammy nominations—two of those for the quartet’s most recent endeavor, the evocative Now Is The Hour.
While the album offers a blend of exquisite original jazz and some film soundtrack gems of the ’40s and ’50s, the Quartet’s interpretive readings are very much in the present. In addition to the Quartet’s outstanding work, Now Is The Hour also features some fine orchestral arrangements by Alan Broadbent.
“We recorded Now Is the Hour simultaneously with a chamber orchestra, and the entire recording took place over three days,” says Haden. “We recorded in Paris at Studios Guillaume Tell. All the musicians were French string players, and Jay Newland came over to Paris to engineer the project. We had used strings on Always Say Goodbye, which was the album before Now Is the Hour. I really loved the way the strings sounded with the quartet, so Ruth [Haden] and I decided, when we made Now Is the Hour, that we would use strings for most of the record.”
Charlie and Ruth sought a sound where the strings would be more deeply integrated into the music, rather then merely serving as coloring. “The orchestra is woven so integrally with the quartet that it’s almost like a fifth instrument,” Ruth Haden says. “We discussed our desire for this orchestral effect with our engineer, Jay, and he did a great job of capturing that.” The album was mixed at Conway Recording in Los Angeles.
Newland, whose credits include Grammy-winning releases by Etta James and James Cotton, as well as artists like Koko Taylor, Gatemouth Brown, Cecil Taylor and Sun Ra, shared his insights on the making of Now Is the Hour: “We must have had 12 channels of the main ingredients, like Charlie, bypassing the SSL, which wouldn’t have been my first choice of board to record this kind of music. We went directly into the Sony 3348. I brought in some Neve and Millennia Media preamps for the project.
“There are three elements I employ when I’m recording Charlie. We use the RCA 44 down around the bridge, about four to six inches away. The second mic is a [Neumann] 87 somewhere up on the top curve of the wood, a little above the F holes. There you’re basically getting a wood and strings sound. I place that mic six to eight inches away from there. The third element is Charlie’s DI. It varies from song to song. If Charlie is playing something really up tempo, and the band is really kicking, then I might bring in more of the DI and the 87. Like the DI, the 87 also provides some of the point to the attack. The RCA 44 is strictly the air. That ‘air,’ or depth to the sound, is what I think he felt he wasn’t getting before. Walter Sear [of New York’s Sear Sound] is the guy who turned me on to using the ribbon mics on the bass. The ribbons are so responsive to the string transients. The 44 clicks really well with Charlie. He would say, ‘I’ve never had my bass sound like this. Finally, someone has gotten my bass sound.’
“Charlie always needs to be in a booth, no matter what because his ears are extremely sensitive. We put the drums in another booth that had a kind of alcove in it, which was kind of dead-sounding. Ernie, our tenor sax player, was placed right next to the drums. Then the piano and the 30 strings were in the main room together.
“For the strings, I would put the warmest sounding condenser mic over groups of four strings, maybe ten feet up. I used a bunch of Neumanns—87s and some 67s. I had some Sennheiser MKH-40s and 20s, which are really nice mics, especially for strings. With the cellos, we were basically putting two on one mic, like a FET-47.
“It was really great to hear Charlie in this context. To hear him play certain melodies, the way he goes up the neck of the bass with this group of string players is amazing. As a producer, Ruth has got a very good sense of what is happening, and how Charlie fits into that picture. She hears what is going on, and if it doesn’t feel right to her, then maybe we should try one more take. She keeps everyone from getting too analytical or technical. After all, this is supposed to be about feeling.”
We’ll give the last word to Charlie Haden: “Each musician in the Quartet is a great improviser, and really places importance on improvisation and playing music that has never been played before. I always seek out musicians that feel that same way about music as I do. Ornette and I used to talk about playing music like you had never heard it before, and you’re playing it for the first time. I think all of the musicians that make an impact on the art form approach music by trying to create something that has never been before. That is the way the guys in the Quartet approach music.”
BACK TO THE CARIBBEAN WITH ANDY NARELL
The Caribbean Jazz Project, formed in 1993, is the combined vision of three unique and familiar jazz talents: Paquito D’Rivera (sax, clarinet), Andy Narell (steel pans) and Dave Samuels (marimba and vibes). The seven-piece ensemble, which also features Dario Eskenazi (piano), Oscar Stagnato (bass), Mark Walker (drums) and Pernell Saturnino (congas and percussion), delivers a spirited fusion of Latin American grooves and jazz.
All three of the principals have long and impressive credentials: D’Rivera has played with McCoy Tyner, Dizzy Gillespie, Toots Thielmans, Lalo Schiffrin, Stanley Turrentine, Lionel Hampton, Tito Puente, Carmen McRae among many others, as well as performing with the London Philharmonic and the Cuban National Symphony Orchestra. Samuels was a founding member of Spyro Gyra and has also appeared on records by Chet Baker, Stan Getz, Frank Zappa, Bruce Hornsby and Pink Floyd. Andy Narell’s amazing command of the steel drums has been amply demonstrated on six albums he has made for the Windham Hill label, all of them worth checking out.
The Caribbean Jazz Project has recorded two albums for the Heads Up Entertainment label, the most recent being Island Stories. Narell, who co-produced the album with D’Rivera and Samuels, shared some details about the dynamics of recording an ensemble that is so rich in percussive elements.
“We rehearsed the music a few days and then did a six-night run in New York at the Blue Note,” Narell says. “We then went directly to the studio and did the album in about three days at Jay Beckenstein’s studio, called Beartracks, in Suffern, New York. It’s a beautiful studio in an old stone house, and a lot of people record there.
“There’s one large main room with very high ceilings, where we put the piano and blanketed it in. I was out there wide open in the room, too. The electric bass was run direct. For Paquito’s horns, we built a little ‘house’ in the studio, with real tall gobos and one that comes down from the ceiling that created a roof. We put Dave Samuels in the iso room, next to the control room, and placed the drums in a space above the control room. There was a lot of eye contact.
“Recording Dave Samuels’ marimbas and vibes is real critical,” Narell continues. “Dave uses this huge concert Rosewood marimba. You practically have to walk from one end to the other, just to play it. To get a really nice sound that captures what’s going on in the room, and to get a nice stereo image, I found that the smaller diaphragm mics have what I’m looking for, like the Schoeps, B&Ks and the KM84s. I have my own pair of KM64s for my pans [steel drums]. It’s a modified KM54 mic, with the same tube, but the capsule is like that of a KM84, and it has a pad. After some research, I realized that was the mic that sounded best on my instruments.
“Steel pans are like an orchestral thing where you have different ranges, just like with strings—violin, viola, cello. My normal setup is to have three pans on the gig, which would be one solo soprano instrument, and a double alto sax range instrument, which is called the double second. This time out, I had larger than my usual setup, with two more drums that gave me more low end extending down into the baritone range.
“For the double second, I used the KM64s. I used a 451 on the soprano, and we put a pair of KM84s on the lower two pans. When I played the soprano instrument, which used the 451, I found that I liked the sound much better if I left the other mics on. The room sound I was getting off of those KM64s was so beautiful that it just warmed up everything.
“We used a 251 on Paquito’s clarinet, and a TLM-170 on his alto sax. I like the sound of a little compression on the bass going to tape, so we used a [UREI] 1176 for the bass. On everything else, I felt that we could wait and use the digital compressors, which worked just fine. The digital compressors sounded really great on marimba, vibes and horns. We tended to stay away from it on piano and drums. We might have touched it a little on the steel pans and congas.
“These instruments are a pain in the butt to record,” Narell says with a laugh. “It’s a real fine line between trying to get control of the sound and over-compressing, or just letting it all go and having all kinds of balance and level problems that may cause you to drop the whole level of the recording, because you can’t get an instrument under control, because it has such dynamics. So a lot of the time, I would compress a little bit less, and spend the time riding tracks, to keep the things together.
“Basically, this was seven people playing live, which was the concept of this record. There are very few overdubs or fixes on this record. Doug Oberkircher engineered the tracks. The whole project went down really smoothly. Dave and Paquito came out here to help with the mixes out at my place, which was tuned by Bob Hodas. I mixed through my Genelec 1031s. I have a Yamaha 02R console, which has really powerful and easy-to-learn automation. I’ve also been really surprised at how good the compressors are on the 02R. I have yet to go, ‘Boy, I wish we had a GML or Focusrite.’ As far as I’m concerned, there is nothing not to like about it. It sounds great.”
RON AFFIF LIVE AT FANTASY STUDIOS
Jazz guitarist Ron Affif has many fans. Guitar Player magazine has raved about his “fertile melodic imagination.” The New York Times admired his “complete command of the jazz guitar vocabulary.” And guitar master George Benson praised Affif’s style: “My favorite type of guitar player is one that plays with fire, and the first thing that becomes evident listening to Ron is that he has plenty of that.”
The 32-year old guitarist is a Pittsburgh native, but now lives in New York City, where he and his trio play gigs at popular jazz spots like the legendary Village Vanguard and the Zinc Bar. In 1992, Affif was signed to Pablo Records, one of 14 label subsidiaries of Fantasy Records, headquartered in Berkeley, California. (Pablo was originally founded in 1970 by Norman Granz, who started Verve Records. In 1986, the Pablo label was added to the Fantasy roster, which also includes such well-known imprints as Original Jazz Classics, Prestige, Riverside, Milestone and Stax Records.)
For Ringside, Affif’s fourth album on Pablo, producer Eric Miller decided to record the trio—Affif, bassist Essiet and drummer Colin Bailey—before a small live audience at Fantasy Studios in Berkeley. For the sessions, Studio A was set up like a jazz club, complete with soft lighting, candlelit table settings for 40, and a bartender. An audience was brought in, and two 1½-hour sets were recorded each night over three nights in February (including a special Valentine’s Day show). There’s a bit of historic significance in the project: The last time Studio A was used for a live-concert jazz session was in 1973, when Cannonball Adderley recorded the Fantasy release Inside Straight.
The sessions were recorded by engineer David Luke and assistant engineer Richard Duarte. Affif plays a Buscarino Monarch guitar into a Polytone Mini Brute II; he was miked with an M269 and a KM84; and four U87s picked up the audience. For Colin Bailey’s DW drum kit, “we had a pretty straightforward mic set-up,” Luke says. The kick was miked with AKGs: a D-112 in front, and a 414 TLII in back; an SM57 was used on the top of the snare; An AKG 452 was used on the hi-hat, KM84s on toms, and overheads were KM54s with gold capsules. Essiet used two pickups on his bass, a Barcus-Berry and a Polytone. These were sent through Demeter tube DIs into a single Polytone Mini Brute with a 15-inch speaker amp, miked with a U67; in addition, the bass amp was miked with a U47; the bass sound on the album is mostly the tube mics, with some of the DI sound blended in.
Everything was recorded on Studer A800s, “There’s a Mitsubishi digital multitrack here, but I was perfectly happy recording to Dolby SR,” Luke says. “We had two multitracks, each rolling until it was two-thirds of the way through, to make sure nothing was missed.”
Mixing took three days, and was done on an SSL 4056 E/G. As with most jazz recordings, minimal effects processing was used, mostly compression and reverb, plus some slight Pultec and Manley tube EQ. Luke says that for his guitar sound, Affif “likes it to be big and fat, and with a fair amount of reverb. Some jazz people don’t like that much reverb, but Ron likes it.” A plate reverb effect was added to Affif’s guitar, in combination with live chamber reverb. (Fantasy is one of those rare facilities that still has reverb chambers: “It’s the kind of thing where, if you don’t have it already, you’re not going to build one,” jokes Luke.) On drums, a combination of AMS and Lexicon 480 reverbs were added.
Luke says recording a live concert in the studio offered the best of both worlds: There’s the element of excitement that comes with being involved in a live performance, as well as the comfort of having consistency in the recording environment. “Being in the studio, in front of a live audience is a lot better for us, because there’s none of those unpredictables that you have when you’re doing a real remote recording,” explains Luke, who has been recording at Fantasy for ten years and is also a veteran of the Bay Area remote recording scene. “All of that pressure that you have when recording in a remote truck was gone. We were in a place where we do most of our work, in a room I’m totally comfortable with. I have all my favorite gear, everything I knew like the back of my hand. I was not worried in the least.” Judging by the success of the project, this just may be the start of a new trend of live concert sessions at Fantasy.
32 Records, the label that released The Jazz Passengers’ latest, recently started a new division: 32 Jazz. The new label was created to handle an extensive series of reissues by jazz artists, past and present. The entire series was produced by Joel Dorn and mastered by Gene Paul at dB Plus Mastering. Many of the reissues are double-CDs that include two albums’ work, and the liner notes include the original information and artwork, plus recollections of the original producers and observations by Dorn. Two of the label’s first offerings are shown above.