Since the early 1980s, Nathan East has been a go-to session bassist for Quincy Jones, Eric Clapton, Phil Collins, Stevie Wonder, Daft Punk and so many others, thanks not only to his immense creative talent but also to his uplifting approach. By all accounts, East is one of the warmest and most focused guys you could ask for in the studio.
When, at long last, East decided to make a solo album, he paid tribute to many of his long-term musical friendships with new arrangements of favorite songs from others’ albums and tours on which he’s played. Several top artists in his acquaintance, such as Clapton, Sara Bareilles and Michael McDonald, contributed to Nathan East (Yamaha Entertainment, 2014), which was nominated for the Best Contemporary Instrumental Album Grammy in 2015.
East and his co-producer Chris Gero also called upon some of East’s fellow session aces to form the core band on Nathan East: Drummers Vinny Colaiuta and Ricky Lawson; guitarists including Paul Jackson, Jr., Michael Thompson and Chuck Loeb; and keyboardists David Paich, Jeff Babko, Tim Carmon, and others. Many of the same musicians appear on Reverence (Yamaha), East’s new solo release.
“On the first record, one of the things we did that I was happy about was, we over-recorded,” East says. “We recorded 25 songs, where 12 or 13 got selected [for the first album], and we had two or three gems left that we still wanted to finish.”
Another longtime friend of East, engineer Moogie Canazio, worked on both albums; he came in partway through the process on Nathan East, but on Reverence, he recorded nearly all of the tracks and mixed every song. Most of the basic tracking on Reverence was done live in United Recording Studios; Ocean Way is also credited on the album because the timeline of this project spans the ownership and name change of the studio.
L-R: Engineer Moogie Canazio, co-producer Chris Gero, and Nathan East in Canazio’s Move Studio
“That’s the studio I probably have the most history in, in L.A.,” East says. “I’ve been logging hours there since the ’80s with Phil Collins, Eric Clapton, Lionel Ritchie. Fourplay [the jazz quartet East plays in] did our first record in there. So when I walk in, it’s like going home.”
“We tracked in Studio B, with the 8068 console with the Neve 31102 preamp/EQs, which is my favorite,” Canazio adds.
Canazio recorded the band to Pro Tools 12 at 96k/24-bit. His general approach involves setting up multiple signals for each instrument, allowing for choices or blending during the mix. For example, on drums, he uses three pairs of overhead mics: AKG C12s and 452s, and Coles 4038s.
“One is lush, one is contemporary, and the third is a balance. Obviously, I only use one pair at a time when I’m mixing, but I might change the overhead when I get to the chorus or back to the verse,” the engineer explains. “If I need a little more energy into the verse, then the 4038s might speak a little more.”
For East’s Yamaha BBNE2 bass guitar, Canazio sets up three inputs: On the artist’s TC Electronic Blacksmith amp, a Sennheiser 421 and a Neumann U47 FET. The third signal comes from a Radial Firefly direct box.
“I place [the mics] as close as possible, slightly off-axis of the speaker,” Canazio says. “In Nathan’s case, the challenge was that I have to keep his bass pumping in the [band] tracking, but I also have to make room for his bass solos without clogging up everything. Having three sources, I could tailor it without changing the tone. In some cases, I would use all the mics, and in certain cases I would bring down the DI to get a mellower sound.”
One of the magical moments at United Recording occurred when East’s basses needed emergency repairs. “I sent down to Yamaha, and they turned them around in a few hours,” East says. “When they brought them back, I was testing out new strings, new everything, and they were working, but it was kind of like, ‘Wait, what’s that? Well, it’s a new song.’”
Almost accidentally, while test-playing his repaired instruments, East hit on a musical idea that became the final track on the album, “Until We Meet Again.” The entire arrangement is realized by East with a gentle, emotional lead electric bass and a fretless rhythm part: just another facet to his wonderfully musical playing.
In addition to the performances captured in United by the core group—which, the second time around included Teddy Campbell, on drums, David Delhomme and Tom Keane on keyboards—East, Gero and Canazio did some tracking in NRG in L.A. They also traveled to Houston to record Yolanda Adams’ powerhouse lead vocal on the single “Feels Like Home” in Wire Road Studios. And they traveled to Nashville: They captured additional guest and background vocals in Franklin at Yamaha’s studio, and they recorded The Nashville Orchestra at Ocean Way.
“This was my first time going to Nashville to work, and I was so impressed” Canazio says. “Ocean Way is a perfect balance of everything you want to hear in a big room and they made me feel so welcome.”
Canazio mixed a couple of tracks from Reverence in Nashville’s The Tracking Room, and in L.A. in his personal facility, Move Studio, which is equipped with his Pro Tools 8 rig and an arsenal of analog outboard gear. It was during the mix that the engineer put the final touches on an older song that he and East had resurrected for this album: Earth, Wind & Fire’s “Serpentine Fire.”
“Twenty-five years ago, my brother [keyboardist] Marcel and I had a project called Two Faces of East that we wanted to start up. That was one of the songs we recorded for that project,” explains East. The brothers were so busy that the project lost momentum, and they set aside their recordings, including a mix that Canazio had recorded made of Nathan and Marcel East with Eric Clapton and Phil Collins of “Serpentine Fire.”
“They had cut those tracks at [Fisher Lane] Farm in England in 1992,” Canazio says. “They brought the tapes to L.A. and called me to join them—I think in 1994. At that time, we recorded vocals and horns, and I mixed the song. But then it sat in a drawer for more than 20 years.”
Canazio rediscovered the song when he was searching for another tape in his archives, and he played it for East and Gero; the producers were instantly keen to do something even cooler with it for Reverence. They asked EW&F members Philip Bailey (vocals), Ralph Johnson (percussion) and Verdine White (bass) to play on the track. “That was a great suggestion from Chris Gero,” East says.
“And while the work was in progress, secretly, I went into the original ‘Serpentine Fire,’” says Canazio. “I got a CD and I transferred it, trying to find places where I can use [the late] Maurice White’s vocal parts. I didn’t want to tell anyone at first, because I didn’t know if we were going to use it. When I played it for Gero and Nathan, they were on the floor because Maurice is one of our biggest idols and working with him, even ‘unilaterally’ was a big treat for us.”