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Branford Marsalis

Ethereal Solo Sax

Saxophone great Branford Marsalis has appeared on countless albums as both a leader and backing others, but incredibly, he had never played a true solo concert until he stepped into San Francisco’s majestic Grace Cathedral on October 5, 2012. The concert he played that night, a mix of diverse songs and four improvisations, is now out on a wondrous CD called In My Solitude: Live at Grace Cathedral.

Marsalis’ longtime engineer and FOH mixer, Rob Hunter, recorded the date, which was quite a logistical challenge given the venue. “What an awesome place,” Hunter says by phone from Gdansk, Poland, where he was on tour with the Branford Marsalis Quartet. “It’s hard to take it all in, the space is so vast. You can stand in the place and drop a pencil and hear it everywhere for like seven seconds.”

Hunter has recorded many Marsalis gigs, capturing most of them on Tascam DA-98HR MDMs. For this gig, however, when the DA-98s were damaged in transport, he had to scramble but managed to land a pair of DA-78HRs from Silent Way Audio in SF. A Pro Tools rig served as backup.

Armed with several Earthworks mics and Millennia HD-3 preamps, Hunter captured Marsalis from different vantage points—two omnis facing the audience out into the church; two left and right in front of Branford, about 10 feet away; and another omni in the middle, about 15 feet in front. “The two in front of Branford were surprisingly clean—almost like a tight room sound. The ones that were pointed into the crowd had the really long reverb on them. The middle one was pretty direct, too.”

The project was mixed at Marsalis’ Durham, N.C., Studio in the Country on a Sony DMX R100 console.