The New Standard (and Joe Ferla's last thing)

Joe Ferla is the preeminent jazz recording engineer of our time—or, I should say, was, as he recently decided to retire from the profession, after more than 42 years and nearly 400 albums, to run his attention to playing guitar. (I haven't heard him do that, but I hope he's good.) His last-released album, The New Standard, is out on CD and double-LP on the Rare Noise Records label, and it stands not only as another specimen of superlative sonics but also Ferla's return to analog.

For many years after most of his colleagues turned to digital, Ferla remained committed to analog tape because it sounded better. Eventually, he switched to DSD (it was nearly as good and a lot easier to work with), then 24/96 (ditto, plus some). But for his final venture—a trio session with Jamie Saft on piano, Steve Swallow on electric bass, and Bobby Previte on drums—he switched back to analog, and the sound is terrific: vivid, full-blooded, billowing through the room.

According to Ferla, he recorded the session in Saft's home studio, live-to-2-track on a ½" Ampex tape machine. He used no EQ, no compression, just "a little reverb," and no post-production effects (Ferla adjusted fader levels as the band played). Around the drumkit (which was placed in a separation booth), he set up a Coles 4038 ribbon as an overhead mike, a pair of Beyer M-88s on the tom-toms and kick pedal and a Neumann KM-184 on snare and hi-hat. The electric bass was taken direct in stereo. On the piano, he used a pair of Beyer condensers; on the Leslie cabinet (when Saft switched to organ), a pair of M-88s.

The New Standard contains 10 tracks of Saft originals or group improvisations, most of them cool blues grooves, nothing very adventurous, mainstream stuff, but the musicians—who all come out of the rebellious downtown movement—handle the changes with masterly aplomb. It's a thoroughly pleasurable album.

The CD sounds superb, the double-LP sounds better. You hear more of Saft's finger work on the piano—his brief hesitations and slight accents, and when he clangs loud on the lower keys, you practically feel the rumble. The drum kit is a bit crisper but only a bit.

Allen Fant's picture

Thanks! for sharing FK.
where can I get a CD copy?

torturegarden's picture

There's a link in the first paragraph that takes you to Amazon. Hint: click on the album title.

1979's picture

First Post here ! I really love reviews that comment on the recording process. Straight to 2-track,No Eq. No Compression. That's Muscle. Thanks to Jamie Saft , Steve Swallow and Bobby Previte , but most of all Thank you Mr. Ferla for showing us kids over at that records can still be made without slapping a million plugins onto every channel.

I've streamed this record, but I will be picking up the 24/96 version. Can't wait to hear that.


jonathanhorwich's picture

Fascinating. The trick here is real time mixing the three instruments down to two track (with an Ampex 1/2" the sound must be spectacular). Does anyone know what mixer Mr. Ferla used. That would be key to the sound once the Ampex was a given.

jpf's picture

If memory serves I used a Studer mixer.

Domino Joe's picture

are you sure that CD sound superb? I Just bought my copy but I'm really dubious about the sound of the bass... very, very strange, sounds like distorted...

Fred Kaplan's picture

It's an electric bass. This is what Steve Swallow sounds like.