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Lorraine Feather: I Love You Guys

Carl L. Hager By

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"The songs we've written together have been constructed different ways. Early on, Lorraine would send me a lyric and I'd write the music I thought best supported her lyric. Songs like 'The Girl With the Lazy Eye' were written this way. More recently, we've been brainstorming together at my house, with both of us throwing ideas back and forth. Once we settle on the direction for the song, I'll work on it on my own and send MP3s for her input and direction.

"I guess in the simplest terms, you're always trying to find a balance of heart and head. One studies music to gain a working vocabulary, but then one has to move into the realm of the heart, to grasp the emotional center of a lyric and find the best possible way to serve it."

Feather's Attachments CD opens with a captivatingly earthy tune with a 19th Century American folk song vibe. Even for one of their collaborations, it is very unusual. Feather had said " 'A Little Like This' is in 7, so I knew Russ would come up with something tasty and hypnotic for the accompaniment, and I thought he'd like the rhythm I had in mind for the vocal. What he does rhythmically with Yellowjackets is so sophisticated, but it never sounds contrived. I admire his deep knowledge of time, though I would not attempt anything as complex as the tunes he does with his group. We have adapted classical pieces that I knew he'd sound beautiful on. There's something soul-satisfying about exploring the hybrid world of jazz and classical music with Russ."

So I asked Ferrante how he frequently manages to compose in an utterly different style, as he did on "A Little Like This," while still keeping what he is writing tethered to her lyrics.

"That song was indeed a bit of a departure for us. Lorraine's husband, Tony, had created a drum loop that was the starting point for the rhythm of the song. I tried to create something that had a more open feeling, almost a modal feeling. Again, all of Lorraine's collaborators have diverse musical tastes, from folk music to orchestral music. It's fun and challenging to step into those different music worlds. In a way, it's like an actor playing a different role than the one most associated with him."

On Feather's previous CD, Tales of the Unusual, violinist Charles Bisharat was brought into her heady mix of session players and created such an impact that he was issued a permanent RSVP. His playing on Attachments on "Anna Lee" or "A Little Like This" is so much a part of the arrangement that it's hard to imagine it being any other way. One of the most obvious uses of Bisharat's colorations is as a second voice paired with Feather's, so I asked Ferrante how writing for Lorraine's voice worked in relationship to writing for Bisharat's violin or another instrument.

"We always give Charlie lots of free rein in the arrangements. He's more like a horn player in a jazz band, with lots of space to create his own parts. I do write a few specific things for him that are part of the arrangement, the same way you would write for any second voice, employing harmonies and counter melodies to help move the arrangement along.

"A voice has a more limited range than most other instruments, so one needs to keep things in a certain area to best take advantage of each singer's unique vocal qualities. Lorraine has a very solid understanding of her voice. If we write anything that is in an awkward range for her, she'll let us know!"

The arrangement Ferrante wrote for "Smitten With You," with the lyrics that fellow dog-lover Feather wrote for her rescue mutt, Sterling, modulates deceptively from an odd little Prokofiev-sounding march time, to a kind of balladic middle and back to the march, then out with a full, almost big-band sound with Valerio's bass, Bisharat's violin and Bob Mintzer's bass clarinet. It is such a melodically incongruous composition (for Feather) that I asked him how the arrangement evolved.

"That was one of those instances where, together, Lorraine and I landed on the initial feeling for the song. The beginning chords just kind of spilled out. After that it wasn't as easy. I encountered several "Not A Through Street" signs before hitting upon a treatment for the middle section. Once that was in place, the ending evolved naturally from the beginning with a slight tweak of the harmony and rhythm."

Carlos Del Rosario

Carlos Del Rosario is a singer, producer and engineer who has been recording Lorraine Feather's vocals for over fifteen years. Such stellar engineering captures as Feather's Ages and Tales of the Unusual speak volumes for what he does, in addition to the work he has done with Denise Donatelli, Stephen Bishop, Arturo Sandoval, Yo-Yo Ma, and Judy Wexler.

I mentioned to Del Rosario that on 2012's Tales of the Unusual plus on her new Attachments CD, her voice sounds fuller and clearer, and the overall sound of the individual musicians' performances, separately and collectively, sound bigger, the aural space greatly expanded, and asked him if he was doing something different with the file compression or if there was anything else different in the way he was recording her.

"I've recorded her from her very first solo album using the same microphone, a Neumann tube U-67 and the preamp. I think the difference you're hearing is really Lorraine. The growth she's made in the last few years in her expression is just amazing.

"Geoff [Gillette] is solely responsible for the recording of the band and I'm responsible for recording and editing of all of her vocals. And we mix together. Yes, you're right about the compression. We've been using less and less of it. And we are very conscious of the aural space that you talk about, which gives each instrument the dynamic range without trampling the other musicians, as you say.

I asked him if Feather's lyrics—which are so dynamically maneuverable, from very soft or even whispered, to quick staccato attacks, hairpin turns and octave leaps—involve anything special while mixing one of her vocals, or if the lyrical content influenced the way he recorded it.

"No, the lyrical content doesn't really influence the way I record her, although at the editing stage I may take a syllable or two and EQ them differently or compress just those syllables alone to make them come out."

Del Rosario has recently done beautiful multi-tracked vocals on a couple of Feather's tunes, like "Hearing Things" on Attachments, even recording Michael Valerio doing some sweet scatting, as mentioned earlier, so I asked him about these new directions.

"Geoff [Gillette] recorded Mike's scatting live as he played the bass. Yes, we are proud of the way it came out. I don't know if I'm supposed to divulge this to anyone yet, but I just recorded a multi-tracked vocal that's a lot more extensive than she's ever done before, on a piece that's written and arranged by Eddie Arkin for the next album. This is something you should look forward to!" [The album, slated to be finished over the course of 2014, is entitled Flirting With Disaster.]

The group of musicians Lorraine has been bringing together for her last three albums have started to sound very coordinated, like a real working band, so I asked him how that has influenced recording her.

"You're right again. When she settled down with these guys, her music became emotionally thicker and juicier. And that's definitely reflected in the whole production. Each one of these guys has such a special connection and understanding with her music, it shows so blatantly in their performances individually and collectively. I don't record them myself, but I have a hell of a lot of fun mixing.

"I've seen her evolve constantly and consistently as a writer and vocalist. When we first met, I was a recording artist for Dave Grusin's GRP label under the name of 'Yutaka.' I contacted her because I wanted her to write some lyrics to my song. We hit it off right away, and from then on she's been coming to my studio for the recording. As a musician, I find her evolving astounding in her ideas, her literary abilities, her vocal performances and of course that Lorraine Featherism that you find in all of her compositions. She's a true one of a kind. I am so fortunate to get to be a part of this team."

Geoff Gillette

Geoff Gillette has been recording music since the mid-1970s, capturing for eternity a Who's Who list that includes B.B. King, Dori Caymmi, Jon Hendricks, Yo-Yo Ma, Sergio Mendes, T-Bone Burnett and Flora Purim. Like Rudy Van Gelder and the other great ones, he is the music world's version of the gentle family doctor who is a master of the recording arts and sciences, empirical and hard-nosed in doing what is needed to breathe life. In person, Gillette is the warmest, kindest sort of gentleman, but as an engineer, he is a nuts-and-bolts technician all the way. Since Edison got his patent, there has never been anything natural about a sound recording, except in the end result. When I compared Gillette's recordings favorably to Van Gelder's, he did just what he should have: he ignored the compliment, and explained how it is that he (and Carlos Del Rosario) recorded Lorraine Feather in such a way that listening to her CD feels like sitting in the room with her and her band:

"There are a lot of elements adding up to why her records sound the way they do, starting with the writers and the musicians she's assembled. Lorraine has created a great team that has been fairly consistent over the years, the newest great addition being Dave Grusin on the Attachments album.

"The recording process is usually done at Entourage Studio in North Hollywood, where I have recorded probably close to fifty records over the years. I know the room well. It's a great-sounding wood room with a vintage Neve console to record through. Recording through this particular piece of analog equipment makes a big difference. Then, of course, it's a matter of putting the right microphones in the right places. Lorraine's vocals are always recorded using a beautiful, restored Neumann U67 tube microphone.

"What is interesting about the way Lorraine makes records is that she'll do two or three songs at a time, and then several months go by before the next session, while she's working on the next songs. We hardly notice that we've done a whole record, when one day, Lorraine announces that the recording is done and it's time to mix.
About Lorraine Feather
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