Stereophile makes its first jazz recording

On August 25 and 26, John Atkinson and Wes Phillips were in Salina, Kansas. They were recording what will be Stereophile's first jazz album, at the deconsecrated downtown church Chad Kassem of Acoustic Sounds has transformed into Blue Heaven Studios. The band, led by acoustic bass guitarist Jerome Harris, featured alto saxophonist Marty Ehrlich, trombonist Art Baron, vibraphonist Steve Nelson, and percussionist Billy Drummond. Over the two days, the quintet recorded a striking set of original compositions by Harris, as well as a superb tribute to Duke Ellington in one of the great bandleader's signature tunes, "The Mooche."

Harris, who is also an accomplished guitarist who has played with Sonny Rollins and, most recently, Jack DeJohnette, decided to concentrate on his acoustic bass guitar, manufactured by Taylor, for these sessions. "I've become fascinated by the instrument," he explained. "It has a deep, sonorous tone that is quite organic, dark, and woody. You're hearing the sound of the instrument, really---in a very different way from a conventional electric bass." He has recorded many records as a session musician and bandmember. Harris' albums as leader include Algorithms (Minor Music), In Passing (Muse), and his tribute to Eric Dolphy, Hidden in Plain View (New World/Countercurrents).

Marty Ehrlich, who is noted as a multi-instrumentalist (clarinet, bass clarinet, flute, alto, tenor, and soprano saxes), also chose to concentrate on just one instrument for the recording---alto sax. Ehrlich has played with Anthony Cox, Frank Lacy, Wayne Horovitz, and Pheeroan Ak Laff, among others, and has recorded with Christy Doran, Julius Hemphill, Muhal Richard Abrams, Leroy Jenkins, Jerome Harris, and John Zorn. His recordings as leader include Eight Bold Souls (Sessions), Pliant Plaint (Enja), Falling Man (Muse), and Just Before Dawn (New World/Countercurrents).

Art Baron plays trombone on the sessions, but also is adept on other lower brass instruments, recorders, flutes, mandolin, and didjeridoo. He played with the Duke Ellington Orchestra during the maestro's final year, and has also played with Roswell Rudd, the Olympia Brass Band, Sahib Sarbib, the George Gruntz Jazz Concert Jazz Band, Illinois Jacquet, and Stevie Wonder. (He was responsible for the great trombone solo on Wonder's "Love Havin' You Around," on Music of My Mind.)

Steve Nelson is one of the most exciting and creative vibraphonists on the scene today. He has played with Mulgrew Miller, Bobby Watson, Kirk Lightsey, Ray Drummond, Donald Brown, Victor Lewis, and Dave Holland. His records as leader include Communications (Criss Cross).

Billy Drummond is one of the most sought-after drummers on the New York scene. He has played with Sonny Rollins, Pat Metheny, Joe Henderson, J.J. Johnson, Nat Adderley, Bobby Hutcherson, James Moody, Andrew Hill, Freddie Hubbard, Steve Kuhn, Javon Jackson, Renee Rosnes, Christian McBride, and Chris Potter. He has released three CDs as leader: Native Colours, The Gift, and Dubai (all on Criss Cross).

Says Phillips, co-producer with Harris, "Recording at Blue Heaven was a treat after all the location recording we've done. It's a great-sounding space, and all the stained glass makes it a pleasant space to be in, but what was best about recording there was that we could leave all the gear set up when we were finished for the day. That saved a lot of time.

"Of course, it was also great working with pros like Jerome, Marty, Art, Steve, and Billy. They came ready to play, and they really made some fantastic music.

"Readers have been asking us to make a jazz recording for some time now, but we realized that we had to make it musically involving and challenging, as well as fun. These musicians were able to give us all that and more---this is definitely going to be a recording that stays at the top of the 'just-played' pile."

Engineer and executive producer John Atkinson, worried about acoustic balance problems with the particular ensemble Jerome Harris had decided to use for his compositions, departed from the purist microphone technique that has been used for all the previous Stereophile recordings.

The kick drum, snare drum, and bass guitar cabinet were all close-miked, as were Steve Nelson's Musser vibes (these with a stereo ORTF pair of cardioids). A second ORTF pair of cardioids was mounted high above the drums to capture both a good stereo picture and a sense of the delicious ambience in what everyone was starting to call "the First Church of Chad." A direct-inject feed was also taken from the bass guitar preamp. The sax and trombone were each miked with a B&K omni, which could cope with the tremendous dynamic range of these acoustic instruments.

The 10 microphone feeds were all transformed to digital at a 44.1kHz sample rate using word-clock-synchronized dCS, Manley, and Nagra A/D converters, and stored on a 4-track Nagra-D and a Tascam DA-38. The latter was converted from 8 tracks at 16-bit resolution to 6 tracks at 20-bit resolution with a PrismSound MR-2024T "bit splitter." No mixing console was used, just mike preamps from Millennia Media and Bryston out in the hall, in order to maximize sonic purity. Analog cables used were from Cardas, AudioQuest, Canare, and Beyerdynamic, while the AES/EBU cables used to take the digital data from the church to the control room were Apogee Wyde-Eye and Canare 110-ohm.

On his return to Santa Fe, NM, JA uploaded the 10 tracks of 20-bit digital data (some 22 gigabytes' worth) to a Sonic Solutions digital audio workstation, and will be spending his leisure time this fall editing and mixing. The CD is expected to be released at the Winter 1999 Consumer Electronics Show, with full details scheduled to appear in the January 1999 issue of Stereophile.