Mike Drop 9: Phree-Range Philosophy

So since I have been posting what I refer to as “free-range” recordings, maybe a brief statement of aesthetics is in order, in case you are wondering what does a term for poultry have to do with recordings?  Let me try to clarify:

Simply, it means having all the musicians in the same room, with NO baffling, NO separaton, NO headphones, just some very good directional microphones in a room conducive to that (Not too live, not too dead) and we all play, just like we would on a gig.  And then, as always, no studio “fixes” (punched in solos or pitch correction) or gating/compression surgery.  Just a touch of reverb added and perhaps a little EQ to adjust for the room, but otherwise what you hear is what we did.  I like this approach so much, since it is honest, and it confirms for me that the endless baffling, gating “fixes”, riding of solo levels, punching in, etc does not do much of anything for acoustic jazz, and can often kill the spontaneity and interaction that is the heart of the jazz I love.

Really, I have not heard modern acoustic jazz recordings that use separate rooms and punches and fixes sound any better, and in so many cases, relying on headphones and on the kindness of engineers to recreate what we did seems misguided to me.  And I have never had a headphone mix feel as good to me as playing live, phoneless,  in the room with my fellow musicians, when it comes to jazz.  Obviously, there are many kinds of music where this makes sense, layered pop productions, situations where musicians can’t be in the same town or there at the same time, and more. And I love great engineers. Some of my best friends are engineers!  However, I do think that, in a variation of “to a hammer everything looks like a nail”, to MOST engineers with all these tools and controls, every recording session looks like an opportunity to “fix and improve on” the original live performance. Frankly, I do not like separation, fixes and “improvements” to acoustic jazz, thinking it generally sounds more sterile and disconnected.  (See Relaxing at Camarillo with Joe Henderson and Chick Corea as an example of overmanaging and separating truly great jazz musicians.) You should be able to hear your favorite jazz group live in performance and have it sound and have them play like what you heard on the recording.  Also, when I play with kindred souls, the best performances we do in the studio are just like live gigs, in the same room, no phones, playing and hearing each other well and in the moment, and those are also many of my favorite jazz recordings (and others, such as Sinatra, etc). Just look at the photos of Coltrane recording Both Directions with his quartet at van Gelder’s…No baffling, no headphones, and somehow, between the room, the microphone and the musicians, it sounds amazing. NOT putting myself in that company, but just increasingly convinced that the best way to hear jazz, even on recording, is by letting them record naturally and unencumbered.   Great engineers set a balance in consultation with the musicians, and essentially that is what you get.  So that is a long version of expressing my feelings on free-range Jazz.  It is the way I plan to record from now on, wherever possible. So whatever your take on it, you will know that what you hear is what we played!

So THAT is what I mean by Free Range Jazz…