Among my favorite musical constellations are those comprised of jazz quartets and quintets. Indeed, much of my personal music collection is filled with albums by classic quartets and quintets. These albums are musical riches I’ll enjoy for many years to come, however, I’ll also always wish the recordings themselves did greater justice to the pantheon of jazz geniuses. Having mostly been recorded using the studio techniques that have since become the norm, we hear the great horn players as if listening with an ear in the bell of the instrument or at best only a few inches away. We hear the pianists from a position under the lid of the instrument (!) only inches above the hammers. We hear the bassists as if our ears were close enough to the instrument to get in the players’ way. Sometimes we don’t even hear the instrument but an electronic representation as provided by an electronic pickup and an amplifier. And the great drummers too often end up being heard with a severely reigned in version of what used to be the dynamic drive they provided—that is, when their drums and cymbals are not completely overloaded and distorted. Fabulous as the music is, these recordings do not sound the way those musicians sounded.
Recording a fine jazz quartet or quintet using the Soundkeeper approach was something I looked forward to for a long time. After meeting Paul Beaudry and being very impressed with his melodic sense, overall inventiveness and stamina as a musician, I spoke with him about the idea of doing a Soundkeeper project together. We met again on a number of occasions and Paul expressed interest in a recording based on some recent experiences he’d had where his band went abroad. The trip was part of a Rhythm Road: American Music Abroad tour co-sponsored by Jazz at Lincoln Center and the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs. The band, known as Paul Beaudry & Pathways, visited Trinidad & Tobago, Suriname, Nicaragua and Honduras, giving concerts, holding musical seminars and learning the local music. Paul wanted to record an album celebrating the music of North, Central and South America and the Caribbean. In addition to music from each of the countries they visited on the tour, Paul included music from Argentina, Brazil, Cuba and Haiti. There was also one beautiful composition from the USA, written by the band’s pianist. With the concept in hand, Paul also had the album’s name: Americas.
After investigating a few other potential venues in which to record, I chose to return to the same 1908 auditorium in which I’d recorded the last two Soundkeeper projects. The acoustics are just right and the room’s Steinway grand piano (also dating from 1908) is sweet. The challenge was to capture the sound of each player as well as their interactions with each other, which are such a crucial component of the spontaneous creation that is jazz at its best. I wanted to hear not simply Paul’s bass but his fingers pulling on the strings of the instrument. A prime objective was to maintain the natural perspective of a listener in the best seat at the performance, rather than from a too close, artificially “zoomed in” point of view. I wanted to hear the wood in the Steinway, with its natural brilliance and warmth. I wanted the weight and metal of the tenor saxophone (and the reed of the soprano), which to my ears, are not usually captured on jazz recordings but are always in great evidence when in the presence of a horn player. And I wanted the expansiveness of the drums as the drummer moved around the set, going from drum to drum and cymbal to cymbal. I wanted to capture the full range of dynamics without any sense of restriction. In typical studio recordings, where the balances are achieved electronically by the engineer, players often seem to swing forward for their solos, then retreat as the solo ends, as if each sat upon a trapeze. As I much prefer having the musicians themselves create the musical balances, this recording needed to accommodate the band’s overall dynamic shifts as they provided each other the space to “stretch out” at different points along the way.
Such were our goals going into the recording sessions and much to my joy, the players facilitated the accomplishment of these goals. I had recorded Paul before, when he played on Equinox, so he was already familiar with the auditorium and with my recording methods. He had communicated this to the other players, each of whom took to the approach with an open mind, an open heart and a readiness to explore the musical and sonic terrain together. For me, the experience was one of exhilaration as I watched the meters, periodically checked the sound with headphones and otherwise just sat dancing in my seat, moving to the music they made for the microphones and for each other. Even now when I listen to this recording, I find it impossible to sit still. This is moving music. With Americas, Paul Beaudry & Pathways clearly demonstrate how music transcends linguistic and cultural boundaries, providing a truly universal means of communication.
The Americas page on the Soundkeeper Recordings Web site contains more information about the album, including samples from all the tracks, lyrics, quotes from reviews of the album, photos from the recording sessions and a link to an interview with Paul Beaudry.
Thank you Paul. I’ve always loved the contrabass and your mastery of it speaks directly to the soul. Thank you too for introducing me to some great music from foreign lands, assembling a great bunch of players and for doing the first straight ahead jazz quartet project on Soundkeeper Recordings.