Joe Harley: Both Sides Now Page 2

SM: In music recording, the term producing can cover a lot of different activities. Tell us about the musical aspects.

JH: Producing means that you determine the artist, agree on the repertoire, choose the studio and engineer, book the dates, hire the musicians, book any rehearsals needed, supervise the actual recording and mix sessions, book the mastering sessions, and supervise those.

SM: Producing also consists of very practical matters—it's like managing a sports team!

JH: Some sessions require very active involvement in the musical process, right down to the arrangements. Others, like most of the jazz sessions I have supervised, you're already dealing with seasoned pros who know exactly what they're doing and simply want feedback about preferred takes. When that happens, I can focus more of my attention on getting the sounds we need. You live for those magical moments when the music and sound come together, and you're just left standing there behind the glass doing absolutely nothing other than marveling at it all!

SM: Most of your recordings have been done in professional studios. How does this differ from live-performance recording venues, and what are the musical end results?

JH: When AQM first started producing albums, we took the traditional "audiophile" route and recorded with two mikes, mostly using my friend Kavi Alexander. But I quickly realized that this method, while great for certain styles of music, is very limited once you add drums or electric instruments. It also asks a lot of the musicians. There's plenty of stop-and-start—you move here, you move over there. A lot of great artists will not put up with this. I got more and more fascinated by the idea of maximizing the studio experience using 24-track technology. I also started using Michael C. Ross, an amazing engineer who had been an assistant at OceanWay. We ended up making so many records together I've lost count.

SM: In the current recording world, because of the power of editing software like Pro Tools, "perfect" and "flawless" recorded performances are routine.

JH: I've produced a number of sessions that combined live-to-two-track with multitrack. With live-to-two, the mixing is going down in real time and there are no fixes. You get what you get. With multitrack, you've now introduced fixing this and fixing that, punching in tracks. I would always notice that the energy in a session would drop once we went to multitrack—that the musicians knew they could relax and fix it later. The live tracks always had more energy and soul, even if that might mean a clam or two somewhere.

SM: You were involved with the fine JVC XRCD series of new recordings and remasterings, with Akira Toguchi and Alan Yoshida.

JH: Yes, I worked with the JVC XRCD team for a number of years. Those two guys have a dedication to detail that borders on the fanatic[al]. And that's a good thing! Those XRCDs remain, in my opinion, the pinnacle of CD quality—as good as it gets.

SM: More recently, with partner Ron Rambach, through Music Matters Jazz, you've been involved in releasing state-of-the-art remasterings of the Blue Note catalog.


JH: To be able to remaster those great Blue Note recordings from the original master tapes—which is more rare than you might imagine in the reissue world these days—is one of the most rewarding things I've ever been involved with. [Mastering engineer and Music Matters Jazz associate] Kevin Gray has a remarkably great mastering chain, and he has unerringly great musical instincts in getting the sound right. I need to add that his entire chain is wired with AudioQuest cables, including the AC cables!

SM: You've been in the studio for several albums with Charles Lloyd—most recently credited as "Tone Poet."

JH: I got asked about that a lot this past year, since Charles's great I Long to See You album came out. I was there for all the sessions, and Charles and I just have a unique bond together. It's such an honor to be able to work on his music. At one point he said, "I'm going to give you a new title, a new credit: Tone Poet." Works for me!


SM: High-end gear continues to evolve. How is this affecting how we experience music reproduction?

JH: Well, of course, we all want the impossible. We want to literally bring the live event into our living rooms. But, for a whole lot of practical reasons, there are limitations. If you re-created Led Zeppelin at full volume in your living room, you can be sure the authorities would arrive shortly thereafter. However, I do think that, overall, audio gear is getting better and better. Tube gear used to do some things very well but be a bit soggy in the low end. Solid-state used to be a bit relentless in character. Those days are mostly gone, thankfully.

At AudioQuest, we've always taken the position that the best cable is no cable. That attitude hasn't changed, but the means of achieving that goal does continue to evolve in design and materials. Of course, we've also found that digital cables are every bit as prone to distortion as analog cables. The digital signal turns out to be a very fragile thing indeed.

SM: How do you see the current music environment shaking out, in terms of financial viability for musicians and small, high-quality record labels?

JH: The good part is that many more musicians are able to self-produce and market their own recordings. I think this is a wonderful natural evolution. On occasion, though, this can also lead to substandard recording and mastering, when cost cutting becomes paramount.

SM: Are we getting past the "MP3 World"? Is the audience for high-quality recordings and music-reproduction gear growing or shrinking?


JH: I'm optimistic about this. From everything I see, the audience for high-quality recordings is growing in a wide variety of ways, all of them considerably better than MP3. That includes CD, HDtracks, better streaming services like Tidal, and it certainly includes vinyl. I get visited regularly by younger, L.A.-based musicians who drive down to talk about music and go through my record racks.

SM: What are some of the key recordings that first opened your ears to what is possible?

JH: I started paying attention to recording credits a long time ago, in my teens. When I would come across a great-sounding record, I would always make note of who the engineer was and where it was recorded. As a lifelong jazz fan, I took early notice of the recordings of Roy DuNann, the incredible engineer who recorded so many classic sessions for the Contemporary label. I remember getting a copy of Sonny Rollins's Way Out West when I was in junior high, and just marveling at the sound. The same happened when I picked up a copy of Cannonball Adderley's Somethin' Else, on Blue Note, about the same time, and read the name Rudy Van Gelder in the credits. What fun to hold that master tape in my hands when we remastered it for Music Matters Jazz 50 years later!