New Stereophile Jazz CD Available
"If there is one aspect of modern rock recording techniques that tires me," he writes in an article on the making of the CD scheduled to appear in Stereophile's September issue, "it is the overuse of compressors and limiters. Not only are songs dynamically squashed to the point where they sound uniformly and fatiguingly loud throughout, even when played quietly, but the natural dynamics of the drum and bass guitar tracks, in particular, are reduced so that they are reproduced at an unrealistically uniform level."
The goal was thus to make an honest non-classical recording, JA relying on each musician's ability to create music-defining sounds that left room for the three others in the dynamic, spatial, and frequency domains. Fortunately, in Attention Screen, he would be working with a band where that was possible. All four members—Don Fiorino (guitar, lap steel, lotar, taro patch ukulele), Bob Reina (piano), Chris Jones (fretless electric bass guitar), Mark Flynn (drums)—are composers and virtuosi, with chops developed both on the road and in music schools like Berklee. The music they play is spontaneously improvised, much as if the four guys had met by chance in the street and had a conversation. "Attention Screen is an attempt to do collectively in real time what a single composer does over a much longer period," explains Bob Reina. "To do that, we have to listen very carefully to what the other three guys are doing, and we have to react immediately to everything we hear to move the piece in a different direction. It's satisfying, but it's also a nerve-racking process."
Nerve-racking it might be, but the musical results are extraordinary. JA recorded Attention Screen last February at Manhattan's Merkin Concert Hall at Kaufman Center, using a mix of distant and close mikes with a minimal signal path, and capturing all 10 tracks with 24-bit resolution and an 88.2kHz sample rate. You can find Wes Phillips' review of the concert here; Wes also contributes an informative essay on Attention Screen's music and the art of improvisation in the 20-page booklet included with the CD's Digipak.
The 67-minute CD, the magazine's 21st release, contains six of the eight improvisations that were recorded. While the average level is lower than usual for a rock recording, the dynamic range is indeed extreme, as you would expect from a good classical recording. Yet all the impact you would expect from a rock recording has been preserved. "The tonal colors, the stereo image, and the range of dynamic expression you hear faithfully reflect what the audience experienced that magic night in Merkin Hall," sums up JA.
You can buy Attention Screen: Live at Merkin Hall from our e-commerce page. The price is an affordable $12 (plus S&H). We all hope you enjoy listening to it as much we did making it.