Herbie Hancock’s band is shown in Avatar’s Studio A. From left: Wayne Shorter (sax), Larry Klein (producer), Herbie Hancock, Vinnie Colaiuta (drums), Dave Holland (acoustic bass), Brian Montgomery (assistant engineer), Helik Hadar (engineer), Justin Gerrish (assistant engineer) and Lionel Loueke (guitars).
Avatar Studios in New York City knew it had a special project on its hands the minute that jazz legend Herbie Hancock walked through the door to track an album for the Verve label called River: The Joni Letters. The rest of the world would later find out how special that project was, as the disc went on to receive the coveted Album of the Year and Best Contemporary Jazz Album statues at the 50th Annual Grammy Awards.
“I grew up listening to Herbie,” says the album’s producer, Larry Klein. “We had played together. He was a friend of mine and someone that I profoundly respect as a person and as a musician/composer. When the idea came up, I said, ‘I would love to do this!’ I realized it would be such a great way to braid together so many important elements: the jazz world and the huge part of my life that Joni’s music has played.”
Klein worked with engineer Helik Hadar in Avatar’s Studio A on its Neve 8088 desk to capture vocals from multiple guest stars such as Norah Jones, as well as the vast majority of the album’s sounds. “Studio A there is set up with such a great layout, in the way that all of the isolation areas adjoin the main tracking area,” Klein observes. “There are great sight lines. They have a fantastic mic selection, great outboard gear, and all of the second engineers are top-notch.”
Microphones employed included a Telefunken ELA M251 E for Norah Jones, B&K 4011 as distant overheads, Coles 4038 and RCA 44 for close room mics, and a Neumann U67 for sax. Avatar’s EMT140 Plate reverb also saw extensive use while recording the piano.
The melting pot that is New York City proved to be the perfect birthplace for the synthesis of Herbie Hancock and Joni Mitchell that is River. “New York is a great energy source for me,” says the L.A.-based Klein. “It always gives me a shot of adrenaline to be there. It’s a place where you walk out the door and you’re in life.”