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George and Chico Freeman at Southport for ‘All in the Family’

Guitarist George Freeman has crossed paths with Southport Records owner/engineer Bradley Parker-Sparrow many times since Sparrow founded the label in 1977. Freeman’s latest album, All in the Family, is a collection of blues-influenced jazz pieces recorded with his nephew, sax player Chico Freeman, and a cast of Chicago jazz stalwarts. Rhythmic and heartfelt, the album is a family affair in more ways than one.

All in the Family was co-produced by Sparrow and his wife/partner Joanie Pallatto in Southport’s studio, which is situated in a former dental office in Chicago’s Wrigleyville neighborhood. “I got tired of our former studio, which had no windows,” Sparrow explains. “So we moved up into this dental office, and divided it acoustically into sectors.”

With help from engineer Todd A. Carter, Sparrow recorded the session live to MOTU Digital Performer; he placed each musician in a separate space equipped with a video camera and TV monitor to keep everyone connected. Sparrow has also amassed a collection of classic tube mics and outboard gear, Pultec EQs, UREI 1176 and LA-2A compressor/limiters, and an EMT 140 plate reverb.

Chico’s tenor and soprano sax were captured via a Neumann M 49. “I also used a Neumann Gefell UM 57 at the same time; it has a frisky sound on sax,” Sparrow says.

“George played through a 1964 Fender Princeton tube amp,” he continues. “We used a close AKG C-12 and a Neumann U 47 farther back. We have a very old 47 that’s been happy and hot its whole life, so I could get a little attack on the strings. He’s a percussive, aggressive player.”

Another thing that adds to Freeman’s percussive playing: “For a pick, he uses a dresser doorknob, a screw-on knob made out of metal,” Sparrow says. “He’s 88 years old, and he feels he gets more strength from his fingers if he uses this knob instead of a pick.”