Take Five with Jacopo Penzo

Jacopo Penzo By

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I particularly love records that are able to mix a natural sound with a creative use of technology. To me, nothing can beat the feeling and connection of a group of talented musicians playing together. That should always be the backbone of a solid record and it should be the main focus. At the same time, I like when a recording is a sort of illusion that can take us to a different place or dimension. That's where technology plays a great role. When done tastefully, the results of this balance can be amazingly creative. The Beatles are a great example of that, but it applies to any genre. A lot of "world music" like Dub or Afrobeat use this combination, as well as many jazz musicians, from pioneers like Herbie Hancock and Chick Corea, to more emerging artists like Christian Scott or Adam Ben Ezra (just to name two). This is the thread that links a lot of the music I love and listen to across different genres, and what I strive to achieve when producing and mixing.

Your dream band

As a producer, my dream band to work with is one composed of people who know how to manage their egos and put music before their personal issues or desire to show off technique. Keeping a calm and focused mindset is really essential to any creative process, and particularly so in music, where inevitably the work is done by more than one person. When this state of mind is there, amazing things happen creatively and personally. When it isn't, the music becomes secondary, and something intangible ends up missing in the final product.

Favorite venue

My favorite recording studio was The Magic Shop in New York, that sadly had to close its doors in 2016 after over 28 years of activity. It was the first recording studio where I worked after graduating. The name says it all: behind a small and nondescript grey door on Crosby Street without even a sign outside, you would enter a parallel universe filled with incredible vintage instruments (among which an original Mellotron) and rare gear (the studio featured a legendary 1970s Neve console). The live room had fantastic acoustics and I heard a lot of great music being recorded there, from acoustic jazz to fusion to indie pop and rock. It was a place with a soul and great personality, and I could see how that helped musicians of any genre to get in the zone and into their best creative mindset.

Your favorite recording in your discography and why?

December Trail by Yousif Yaseen. It's the first song I fully produced, recorded and mixed, and it represents something very special to me.

What do you think is the most important thing you are contributing musically?

As a producer, I find that the most important thing I can contribute musically is making sure that all the pieces are there in order for a musician to fully express what they want to express. What is fascinating is that this can vary wildly from one situation to another: for example, working with jazz musicians, musically important elements like arranging, instrumentation or solos are usually in the hands of the composer or band leader, and I'll tend to take care of the technical side of things (recording and mixing), or more logistical aspects like picking the studio with he right atmosphere for the music. In other situations, I'll have more control over fundamental musical aspects and decide the arrangement or even change the form of a song. On yet other projects, maybe all the musical elements are already put in place by the band, but I'll have the freedom to add some touches in the mix that will give a unique and distinctive character to the recording. The common denominator is being able to really listen to who you are working with and to understand what the music needs. Sometimes it simply needs practical guidance, other times it needs a deeper artistic involvement.

Did you know...

After music, my great passion is cooking. I always cook at home for my friends and family. I also volunteer to cook lunch once a week at a Zen Buddhist temple in Brooklyn. I particularly like simple and mostly vegetarian dishes with tasty and fresh ingredients. My highlights are any pastas, saffron risotto (a quintessential Milanese classic), and I make a great chickpea curry.

The first jazz album I bought was:

Herbie Hancock: Gershwin's World (Verve, Polygram)


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