Photo: Steve Jennings
Combining a seductive voice with superlative piano skills, Diana Krall has risen to the top of the jazz world. Krall, together with Norah Jones, accounts for a large percentage of sales on the Verve label, and this summer, Krall toured large venues that normally host rock superstars. In a genre that rarely gets much mainstream attention, Krall's latest release, The Girl In the Other Room, was even reviewed by many mainstream publications such as InStyle, the Wall Street Journal and People, among others. The album features many songs that Krall co-wrote with husband Elvis Costello and a smattering of interesting covers such as Joni Mitchell's “Black Crow.”
Krall is supported on this tour by a small all-star band that includes guitarist Anthony Wilson, bassist Bob Hurst and drummer Peter Erskine. Whether playing long, exploratory instrumentals or dropping back to quietly, but smoothly, back Krall's elegant vocals, the group provides the perfect accompaniment. Translating the sound of a jazz quartet to 10,000 to 20,000-seat venues (including the Coors Amphitheatre in Englewood, Colo., where Mix caught up with Krall in mid-July; photos taken at San Francisco's Davies Symphony Hall) is the job of front-of-house engineer Dave Lawler, who helped design the system Krall is currently using.
FOH engineer Dave Lawler at the Midas Heritage 3000
Photo: Steve Jennings
A TRAVELING DEMO
Lawler has been doing sound for 25 years now, and has been affiliated with Meyer Sound since 1986. He got the job with Krall after filling in at a couple of shows when her regular sound engineer had health issues. “Most of the time, I've used Meyer stuff,” he notes. “We get other things sometimes, but 90 percent of the time, we get it from Meyer. I started working with them because they were doing the Vancouver World's Fair; in those days, I couldn't find anyone else who had the attention to detail they did — and they still carry that torch. This is kind of a traveling Meyer demo. Even the wedges up there are Meyer. We started out in April with this system. I worked with Audio Analysts [Colorado Springs, Colo.] to design this Milo line array system for Norah Jones' tour last year. When it came to this tour, since I had been on the design team for this, it seemed the thing to do.”
For Krall, Lawler is mixing on a Midas Heritage 3000. “I like everything about it,” he says. “I think it sounds great, and it is really versatile and fast. I looked at most of the digital consoles and since we are traveling around the world and there are only two of us [doing sound with monitor engineer Eric LaLiberté], I wanted to go with something I knew. With the opening act [Ollabelle], the console is full and we haven't had any problems with it yet.”
Based out of New York, Ollabelle mixes gospel tunes with a sultry, blues rock sensibility to create a unique sound, which audiences have been reacting enthusiastically to. The band is fronted by two women with striking voices: Fiona McBain and Amy Helm. Helm is no stranger to the music world: Her father, Levon Helm, was the drummer and vocalist for The Band. The group is rounded out by Tony Leone on drums, Glenn Patscha on organ, Jimi Zhivago on guitar and Byron Isaacs on bass and slide guitar, all of whom sing as well. The group's self-titled debut CD was executive-produced by T Bone Burnett of O Brother fame, and includes soulful covers of “Elijah Rock” sung by McBain, and “Soul of a Man” sung by Helm.
With such strong voices, Lawler feels that it is important to build the mix around the singers. Lawler is using four Neumann KMS 105s for the vocals. The drums get an Audix D4 on the kick, a Neumann KM 184 on the snare, a Neumann KM 185 on the hi-hat and two Neumann TLM93s for overheads. Lawler has a Neumann KM 184 on the guitar and a Neumann KM 185 on the bass, which he mixes with a signal from the DI. The pump organ gets an AKG 414. Lawler is using DIs on the Wurlitzer organ and Isaac's bass.
“Mixing them is interesting,” says Lawler. “They are definitely careful about their sound and they like to soundcheck almost their entire set every night.”
Monitor engineer/system tech Eric LaLiberte at the Midas Venice
Photo: Steve Jennings
ENHANCING KRALL'S NATURAL TONES
Lawler says he is using very little in the way of effects processing for Krall. “We have a Focusrite Producer Pack for Diana's vocals and we insert a BSS DPR-901 into that pre. There are four effects units: We have a TC Electronic M1 and 2290 delay unit, and a Lexicon PCM 70 and 480L. We also have a BSS DPR-402 compressor for the opening act.”
To get across the natural quality of Krall's sound, Lawler uses mostly Neumann microphones. “We have a KMS 140 on her vocal, two KM 100/40s on the piano and two Schertler transducers, and an AMT Brass PZM for the piano. The guitar has two Neumann KMS 105s, the overheads are two Neumann TLM 173s and the snare and hat are Neumann KM 184s. I use an Audix D4 on the back of the kick drum, and the toms have two Audix Micro-Ds. The bass gets a KM 185, and there is also a pickup on it running through an Avalon U5 DI.
“This gig is all about managing leakage because everything mikes everything. That is why I use the Neumanns; they have the best off-axis sound I've ever heard. It's super quiet. It is quite a challenge to mix that quiet. Any noise from the stage, like fans, can be heard. They have a lot of dynamic range that way, but it can be difficult, especially in theaters.”
WORKING IN THE ZONE
Lawler became positively effusive when discussing the Milo line array system: “The console goes to three BSS Audio Soundwebs, and the SIM 3 machine is routed in through the Soundwebs so we can see everything. There is also a rackmountable PC power and cooling computer that runs all the Soundwebs. SIM 3 is the thing I really want to talk about. It's been 11 years since SIM 2 was put out and the third generation is a third of the cost, size and weight — it makes my life a lot easier. We set up the mics on all the zones on the right side and then we can see what EQ correction we are doing in real time upside down on the computer.”
The P.A. is set up so that Lawler can achieve a similar sound in every part of the venue. “It has 22 zones overall,” he says. “We break it into a lot of parts, fix each part and put it back together. SIM is a Meyer analyzer, and we have mics all over the venue to tweak the system. The goal is to get it to sound the same everywhere — same tone, same gain — which is quite challenging. It's a superdetailed rig and fun to mix on.
“Three lower cabinets on each array are on their own zone, and then I have two in the center on a reverse stereo with the right a left and the left a right, creating a good sound for those in the VIP area so things aren't muffled there. I've been a freelance SIM engineer for 10 years, so it isn't hard for us to figure out these venues and what to do for them. We try to stick to the facts, but there's a lot of mythology out there. Those cabinets on the P.A. are set up so I can mix from back to front in the venue. All the cabinets are self-powered. We have a wireless tablet controller that we can use to mute any cabinet using the Meyer Remote Monitoring System so we can see what's going on with it. Each cabinet can be muted one at a time or by group. During the system test, we can hear the coverage of each cabinet. MAPP Online Professional is also used to design each array for all the venues on this tour. As far as the cabinets, we have eight Meyer M1Ds across the stage for nearfills and one Meyer M3D sub per side. On the array itself, we have three Meyer CQ2s on the bottom. The main array is 10 Meyer Milos and then another Meyer M3D sub on the top. We also have a pair of Meyer CQ2s for that reverse stereo pair in the middle.”
Monitor duties on this tour are handled by Eric LaLiberté. “I've been doing sound since I was 18; 20 years now,” he offers. “I actually went to Trebas [Institute], a school for recording engineers in Canada. After school, I went on the road with bar bands doing lights and sound for a couple of years. I was freelance mainly for part of the years I worked in Quebec. I used to work for Rocky Mountain Sound in Vancouver, and we provided the sound for Diana for the last two tours, so they hired me directly to do monitors and system tech. I still work for Rocky Mountain Sound on breaks. After this leg, I will work for them for about a week and then I'm coming back out again.”
LaLiberté is mixing on a Midas Venice console, while all the wedges are Meyer UM-1P powered wedges. He also uses Soundweb for EQ and has no effects. Talking about the monitor desk, LaLiberté raves about the sound: “It's not a monitor desk per se, but it has been modified for mixing monitors. I have to say that the sound is great. Even with a larger console, I don't think it would sound better. It has a great preamp in it, as well.”
LaLiberté says that the overall monitor mix is fairly simple. “The guitar player gets piano and vocals. The drummer gets piano, vocal and bass. The bass player gets bass. Diana gets her vocal alone. It's the first two to three songs that I have to adjust everything level-wise with a cue or two. The rest of the night I get to sit down and enjoy. With jazz, the dynamic swings are great, so they basically mix each other onstage. You don't want to bring them up or down or you will get a dirty look.”
While many musicians have switched to in-ear monitors, LaLiberté feels that in the jazz world, in-ears can be more of a hindrance than help. “For jazz musicians, it is better if they hear it acoustically because they are so used to hearing it that way playing together in small settings,” he says. “The monitor levels are kept pretty low, so I don't think in-ears are worth it for them.”
Candace Horgan is a freelance writer based in Denver.