Two Days in August: Stereophile's First Jazz Recording Multitrack Madness part three
For the mixing, therefore, I now had eight channels of sample-synchronized digital data in the Sonic: stereo drums, snare drum, equalized bass guitar, clean sax and trombone, compressed sax and 'bone, dry vibes, and vibes with varying amounts of reverberation.
The primary decision to make when you mix a multitrack recording to stereo is where the instruments should be placed in the soundstage. In a way, this had been decided for me in Blue Heaven Studios. Because of the leakage of the loud instruments into the other mikes, the only way for this leakage to appear to come from the correct places in space was to replicate the positions of the musicians. Accordingly, the vibes were placed from far stage left to just left of stage center, the trombone was placed about 20% right of center, and the sax was about 80% of the way to the right speaker. The bass guitar and kick drum were placed midway between the speakers, which is always the best position for bass instruments, locking in the soundstage with a well-defined tonal center.
I had to think about the drums. Multimiked drums are often spread from far stage left to far stage right, which tends to make them sound too big compared with the sizes of the other instruments. But that is exactly where I ended up placing them on Rendezvous. Billy Drummond uses his kit not only to lay down basic rhythms, but also to take the role of a melodic instrument. Narrowing the width of the drums restricted the play between his collection of very different-sounding cymbals. Letting the drums occupy the full stage width allowed them to define the aural background against which the horns and vibes make their musical statements.
When I was active as a session musician in the '70s, I grew very tired of engineers reducing the kick drum sound to a muffled thud by taking off its front skin and packing the shell with blankets or foam. For Rendezvous, therefore, I wanted Billy's Gretsch kick drum to sound on the CD as it did in the hall, with its natural tone intact and a degree of acoustic ringing. You can hear the effect of this approach in his solo in "Followthrough," where the kick drum plays a melodic role in conjunction with the two differently sized tom-toms and the snare.
For the mix, while I tried to preserve the overall dynamic range—which is greater than you might be used to hearing from more "commercial" recordings—I used subtle changes in balance and level, and wet or dry, compressed or clean, equalized or flat instrumental sounds as I saw fit, in order to realize what I understood Jerome Harris was trying to achieve musically. This is a far cry from the documentary approach that I adopt in my classical recording. But my guiding principle was still the live sound of these five free-blowing musicians in that ambient Salina church.
It was a privilege to work with such a simpatico bunch of musicians. My thanks to all of them, but especially to Jerome, for the many hours of musical enjoyment I had in the preparation of this CD. I hope you get as much enjoyment listening to Rendezvous as I have from its production.