Saxophonist Seamus Blake in Saint Peter’s Church
Photo: Rick Eckerle
West Side of New York, meet the Dark Side of the Moon — now, make beautiful music together. The album that resulted from this pairing is a sonically entrancing love child called Jazz Side of the Moon: just one more example of the lengths New York City recordists will go to create new listening experiences.
The story of this inventive SACD jazz reinterpretation of Pink Floyd's landmark 1973 album, originally engineered by Alan Parsons, starts with the audiophile philosophy of Chesky Records (www.chesky.com) and the specific recording techniques that it employs. “Unusual for a record company, Chesky is very concerned with how things sound,” says Nicholas Prout, recording engineer for Chesky Records. “[Producer] David Chesky is the one who leads the charge on this: On every session, we usually try something new in an effort to make a better-sounding recording than the last one.”
For Chesky and Prout, the experimental approach emanates from their rhythm with their recording facility. No, it's not a sealed space with floated floors; it's the historic Saint Peters Church on 20th Street between 8th and 9th Avenues — an Episcopal chapel consecrated in 1838 and boasting an eternally immaculate sound. “We have to build a recording studio each time we make a record,” Prout explains. “This is an approach developed by the predecessors in my post, Bob Katz and Barry Wolifson, and it involves loading in on a Monday, recording two or three records if we can, and then we load out on Friday.”
The week before the two-day Jazz Side sessions, Chesky and Prout brainstormed on a recording that would make the project the star as opposed to any particular artist. The band was assembled on just a few days' notice by Hammond B3 organist Sam Yahel, resulting in a lineup of top New York City players that included Yahel, Mike Moreno (electric and acoustic guitar), Ari Hoenig (drums) and Seamus Blake (tenor sax).
“If the musicians aren't into it, you're not going to get anything, but this group came through far more than we all expected,” says Prout. “The fact that this record came together in just a few days is amazing. Maybe that's another reason why it came out well — there was no time to overthink it.”
While the music itself shimmers with the spontaneity of top jazz musicians recasting timeless songs such as “Breathe,” “Any Colour You Like,” “Money” and “Us and Them,” the recording methods reflect Chesky's years of experience working in the 19th-century space. Prout, aided by second engineer Rick Eckerle and assistants Edward Lee Priest, Matt DeSteno and Adam Minky, recorded the ensemble with a single stereo Soundfield Mark V microphone (plus a Beyer m160 to add bass punch to the Leslie), going into multiple Tube-Tech vacuum tube preamps. Connected with ultrahigh-performance custom Crystal Cable, the signal path next ran into a George Kaye custom vacuum tube mixer, then through Mytek Digital A/D converters for recording into two Tascam DV-RA1000s at 192kHz/24-bit and into a Genex GX8500 at 96kHz/24-bit for backup — that's it.
“The reason we record this way is because David worked for many years as an orchestrator, doing jingles and such,” notes Prout. “When he'd hear the orchestras in the room it would sound right, but then he'd go into the control room and it would sound totally wrong — they'd have 20 mics on the orchestra, which causes a lot of phase-cancellation problems. So he decided when he started his own label, he wanted to just have a single-point microphone, and we've been working on that principle since then. It's pretty much the way that Louis Armstrong recorded in the 1920s, but with higher resolution.”
When mixing to 2-track on the spot in this way, the positioning of the players, their instruments and a playback P.A. for managing reverb relative to the microphone becomes paramount. “We spent a lot of time moving the Leslie speaker around on the first day,” Prout recalls. “You have to think about how the record will sound when it's done: The organ and drums were positioned hard-left and -right because they would be playing throughout, and the sax and guitar were positioned soft-left and -right.”
With multiple takes of each song in hand, Prout took the files back to his well-tuned editing and mastering studio at Chesky's headquarters to assemble the record. Editing on Sonic Solutions and monitoring through Joseph Audio RM7 speakers with an REL Storm 3 subwoofer, Prout and Yahel crafted the record into one seamless new experience. All editing was done at 192kHz/24-bit, then converted to DSD at Airshow Mastering.
“What I do is put together as close to the ultimate performance as I can,” says Prout. “It's fun to edit — I get to play the band.”
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