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 lyricswhich are so dynamically maneuverable, from very soft or even whispered, to quick staccato attacks, hairpin turns and octave leapsinvolve 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.
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