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I'm disappointed by this author's flowery approach in analyzing the transcendent music called jazz. For starters, Art Blakey was one of the ascended masters. Just to be able to hear Blakey's musical contribution with the engineering care that both Fowler and Van Gelder took, should be sufficient and skip the discussions about how each engineer did what he did. There are so many factors to be considered before passing sonic judgment. Whether sessions were released on the Riverside label, with the majority of the recordings done by Ray Fowler at Plaza Sound Studios or on Blue Note, where recording took place at either Rudy's parents home in Hackensack or the grand (Talliesen - Frank Lloyd Wright designed) studio in Englewood Cliffs, NJ. A big part of the recording process involves shear space for positioning of the players to accommodate their need to hear each other. The 50's- 60's recording era didn't use headphones and most important, there was no multi-track... everything was recorded straight to 2 track stereo. No, "fix it in the mix" advantage. The artist is THE SOURCE SOUND. And the studio space and acoustic quality of the room contributes greatly to how that sound will behave. The size of the studio space determines what methods can be used to capture a rich, clean pickup of the each instrument. Since mic placement on piano and bass are so sensitive to the high volume level of drums, the technique for recording piano and or bass can vary greatly to avoid one player overpowering another. The setup may require using gobos (portable partitions) between instruments or setting up drums in a small isolated room or space. What microphones were available and used by the engineer? Professional microphones used in the 1950's/1960's would include RCA, Western Electric (Altec), Shure or Electro-Voice ribbon and dynamic mics. As well as the hugely respected German condenser mic offerings from Neumann, AKG, and Schoeps. This music called jazz is the greatest musical gift given to the world. The "Big Bang" of it's genius players exploded in the 1950-1960's It's sad that the corporate "music industry" passed over it's brilliant artistry, deep subtlety and soulfulness. Instead it opted for the "Chicken McNugget" music product offerings being released today and dominating the airwaves.When ever there is something as monumental as Blakey, Shorter, Workman, Walton and Hubbard available to hear, I just think it's wasted energy spent talking about it's technical recording aspects. Maybe we could spend time trying to affirm it's greatness by fighting to get these recordings played on radio... and acknowledging those brilliant souls who created it. Rudy Van Gelder, Ray Fowler and the late David Baker all knew what they were doing. They approached each session with what they had to work, within their space and the available equipment. They also appreciated that they were making history and the importance of documenting it. I'm most thankful they did so and with such gift. Now all we have to do is listen to the music.
Dear Mr. Heid,I hear (in fact, applaud) your reverence and respect for the music of artists like Art Blakey, who so richly deserve it. And I resonate with your sense of indignation (and frustration) at, on the one hand, the neglect suffered by musicians of Blakey's stature and, on the other, at the added insult of those whose interest in their music is to exploit and commoditize it.But I think you may be hasty in interpreting my review of the Keepnews reissue as somehow being dismissive of it rather than a pretty strong endorsement. Between us, we have enough work to do to convince listeners to be aware of and receptive to this vital, essential musical expression without blaming each other for what indeed is a deplorable situation concerning our most significant (if not only) indigenous art. I would not use a word as flowery as your "transcendent" to characterize a music that speaks with such immediate and urgent forcefulness as Blakey's, a music that continues to tell the story of our "unwritten" history, the suffering and sorrow, the injustices and injuries, the adversities that produce the most radiant responses while holding forth the promise of helping us write the next, better-lit chapter. Blakey's music frequently reaches the sublime, true, but only because it follows that very real and earthy trail of tears that too many Americans might choose to tune out--from the work songs and spirituals to the blues to the triumphant proclamations of Armstrong's trumpet to the full-scale transformation of what was a folk expression into a sophisticated but richly expresive art capable of reflecting our present reality and teaching us to revaluate and see beauty. And all this miraculously occurring because of itinerant pluggers whose vision overruled the hurt--whether it was Duke, or the Eckstine band with Blakey and the rest of the class that would graduate from "I Apologize" to "Ko Ko." If my language was flowery, or inexact, please point out the offending words and most likely I'll agree with you. My language (now that you've found it out) is not adequate to describe the recording techniques used to capture the music of a phenomenon like Blakey. But for the record I already have written a number of reviews of Blakey's recordings in which the emphasis is exclusively on the music, the soloists, the playing of overlooked Messengers like Bill Hardman and Dave Schnitter and Walter Davis Jr. In this instance, my intended audience was the collectors (and I have personally met quite a few) who limit their Blakey recordings to the admittedly excellent Blue Notes. I'm really not too clear what meaning you derived from the review, but the point was to encourage such listeners to expand their horizons to his recordings on Columbia, Bethlehem, Cadet, Elektra, Vik, RCA, Limelight, Roulette, Timeless, Concord, Sonet, Lotus--and, yes, this particular reissue in the Keepnews Collection on Riverside. (Actually, I would be quite shocked--though delightfully so--to discover I'm not the only one who sends cash to England, Holland and Italy all for the prospect of receiving an as-yet unreissued Blakey LP in return.)If my review of Caravan was in some way negative or a slight to the artists and the music, I'm not sure why I'm holding three "self-financed" editions of the session. So let there be no misunderstanding: The music and recording are good--so good that I'll give you that word I normally find flowery: it's transcendent.Samuel Chell, Senior Editor
I totally agree with Mr. Chell's views on Rudy's engineering. What frustrates me most is the missing bass.
While listening to some Blue Note RVGS, I shook my head at the weak, miniscule bass sound. When the horns are playing, the bass just gets overwhelmed and is faint. I can only hear the bass when the piano solo happens, though still sounding limp.
Interestingly, when Charles Mingus signed with Impulse, he stipulated in his contract that Rudy Van Gelder wouldn't engineer the sessions. Mingus didn't like how the bass sounded on RVG sessions, nor did he care for the poor stereo seperation.
On the Impulse 20 bit remasters, which Erick Labson did, the bass sound is full, resonant, and has a real presence. This isn't the case on the original Rudy engineered albums, where the bass sounds weak as on the RVG cd remasters. Unfortunately, the Rudy strange stereo seperation mix remains, as on the Coltrane discs; whereby John only comes out of the left speaker and Elvin the right speaker. This is where the mono button is handy.
I didn't comment on the bass tones, but I know what you're saying. I'm currently listening to a Candid disc, Cal Massey's "Blues to Coltrane," not engineered by Van Gelder but showing the problem you refer to. Jimmy Garrison's bass gets things off to a solid reassuring start but then practically vanishes in the mix until much later in the session.
Jane Ira Bloom
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