Editor's Choice: Stereophile's Sampler & Test CD Track 15

[15] Ellington, arr. Harris: "The Mooche" (from Rendezvous, STPH013-2)

Performers: Jerome Harris, Taylor acoustic bass guitar; Marty Ehrlich, alto sax; Arthur Baron, trombone; Steve Nelson, Müsser vibraphone; Billy Drummond, Gretsch drums, K. Zildjian cymbals
Recording Venue: Blue Heaven Studios, Salina, Kansas
Recording Dates: August 25-26, 1998
Producers: Wes Phillips & Jerome Harris
Microphones: two Shure SM-81 cardioids (vibraphone, ORTF pair); two DPA 4006 ½" omnis (sax, trombone spots); two DPA 4011 ½" cardioids (main drum pickup, ORTF pair); Shure Beta 57A cardioid (snare-drum spot); AKG D112 hypercardioid (kick-drum spot); AKG D190E cardioid (bass-guitar cabinet)
Mike Preamps: two Millennia Media HV-3Bs (drums, vibes); Bryston BMP-2 (snare, kick drums); Aguilar DB-680 tube preamp (bass guitar direct feed); Nagra-D preamps (sax, trombone, bass guitar)
A/D converters: dCS 902D & 904D (20-bit, vibes, drums); Manley (20-bit, snare, kick drums); Nagra-D (20-bit, sax, trombone, bass guitar)
Recorders: Nagra-D (sax, trombone, bass guitar); Tascam DA-38 with PrismSound MR-2024T bit-splitter (vibes, drums)
Mastering equipment: Lexicon PCM-90 digital reverberator; Z-Systems rdp-1 digital equalizer; Manley ELOP tubed analog limiter-compressor used with a Wadia Digital 27i D/A converter
Mixer: Sonic Solutions Digital Audio Workstation (10 channels)
24-16-bit Noiseshaping: Meridian 518

Unlike the other recordings on this CD, there was no real musical event to be captured with this track. Well, there was, but with an acoustic balance consisting of one very quiet instrument—Steve Nelson's contemplative vibes—overpowered by the horns and Billy Drummond's drums, it was not one that would prove musically satisfying. The soundstage on Jerome Harris's arrangement of "The Mooche" was therefore painstakingly constructed by me during the mix. However, it does reflect where the musicians actually were in the studio, and most of the ambience you hear is real rather than being sourced from a Lexicon reverberator, so there is a basic honesty there. Listen, for example, to how the snare drum lights up the church acoustic at around 6:00, before the recapitulation of the tune.

This is the one track where I used some compression, incidentally—not for the overall mix, which would have eliminated some of the light and shade, but for Art Baron's trombone, which had mightily powerful peaks that would have used up at least a bit's worth of dynamic range all by themselves. A touch of peak limiting, applied in the analog domain to the trombone channel, allowed the track's average level, hence its loudness, to be a useful 6dB higher without, in my opinion, affecting the musical message.

What you should hear: In the mixdown, I used the stereo image of the drums and cymbals as a backdrop that extended the full width of the soundstage. The kick drum was panned to the center, as was the bass guitar, while the snare-drum spot was aligned with its virtual image from the overhead mike pair. The stereo image of the vibes was placed from far left to stage center, with the trombone mid-right and the alto sax far right. The kick drum is the true bass instrument, with Jerome Harris's bass playing the role of a tenor continuo—which is why I ended up balancing it a little lower in the mix than you might expect, given that Jerome is the leader of the band.

Dig the crackle on Art Baron's muted 'bone in his solo, which is due to the air in the instrument's mouthpiece being driven into nonlinearity. It takes a good system to reproduce the correct degree of this "brassy blattiness," as Stereophile's founder, J. Gordon Holt, calls it. Also note the degrees of difference apparent among Billy Drummond's vintage cymbals. On speakers with sub-par tweeters, the cymbals will start to sound too similar to one another, or even more like an anonymous hiss than the sound of shimmering bronze.