Friday, March 17, 2006

Picking Up

OK. Here's the missing text, new and improved!

Well, we sort of left off at Friday, March 10th. I talked a lot about some of the business details. I’ll talk more about that later, but let’s get back to recording.

Friday, we brought Ed Ridley back into the studio to finish up his keyboard parts. Ed is one of the best keyboard players around. David, who’s been in the music business since the 1960’s, in NY and LA among other places (check out David’s bio), says he is the best keyboard player he’s ever worked with. As I listen to the roughs, I love listening to Haruach for two or three reasons. One is Norm’s sax part. But the main thing is Ed’s keyboard parts. On Friday he added a synth part to the front of the song. It’s kind of the old Vox Humama sound that James Taylor used on the Walking Man record. “Vox Humana” literally means Human Voice and it’s got this eerie, windy, sparkly quality (words don’t do it justice). Windy is one of the qualities I wanted to fit in the whole “ruach” thing. (My standard concert intro to Haruach: The word Ruach means “spirit.” And the word Ruach means “wind.” As in the breath of God.) As we were searching for the right sound (Ed was pushing little buttons on his Roland keyboard and playing with different combinations) and came up with the one you’ll hear on the record, Ed said, “Yeah. This one sounds like the moment right before creation.” I knew it was the right sound.

But it’s his piano solo in Haruach that gets me every time. In fact, we added an instrumental verse so he could take a solo. Haruach was the last song I thought we’d add a verse to because it’s so monotonous. And I mean that in the best possible way. It’s built mostly on two chords, the I and the VI, and then the V is thrown in there at the end of the verse, and the melody line is built around one note. (I don’t recommend beginning songwriters do this. You’ve got to have some experience and know about structures and how they work. I’ll say more about songwriting in another blog some day.) There are four verses and no chorus (I have a habit of writing songs without choruses). Thankfully, there is a bridge. And the bridge is strong. Right after the bridge is Ed’s solo. It’s only a single line. No big chords or flourishes or arpeggios. It’s not impressively speedy. Nothing particularly fancy. But it is perfect. It’s perfect in its simple eloquence. All in that one line, it is smooth and silky and gorgeous. It builds in tension and expectation without being brash, and almost resolves, leading you right into the next verse, hungry for more. That’s where Norm’s sax come in and takes over. It’s a perfect climax.

And that’s Ed’s genius. He can do whatever you need, but he can give you exactly what you need, with nothing extra, nothing superfluous. It’s all usable. He captured all that in a single line of piano. It’s great just to watch him work. He becomes the music. He listens to it, take after take, and his eyes close and he sways. He breathes the music. He tastes the music. It becomes a part of him. He knows when to stop and try something new. Each take gets better and better. There’s very little punching with Ed.

This goes to my philosophy of hiring musicians. I don’t want people who can just read a chart. I want people who will make connections and leave their personal imprint on the sound. I encourage spontaneity and creativity. I’m purposefully vague, especially at the start of the session. I’ll have them listen through the song once or twice, talk a little about it, and let them have at it. When we start getting something we like, then we can begin to hone and pick and choose. Most of the musicians were able to do that and come through, most notably, Ed, Norm, Derek, and the Prayer Warriors.

Ah, the Prayer Warriors. That’s another blog for another day. They were everything I’d hoped.

We spent the rest of that Friday working on my vocals. It took, on average, about an hour to get a good vocal for one song. We fell into a pretty good pattern. I’d sing all the way through the song a few times, recording and keeping each take. Eventually we’d come up with one complete take that we liked. Then we’d go back and listen through that one punching in the spots that weren’t right – a missed word, a stumble, bad intonation, funny pronunciation, ahead of or behind the beat, etc. We’d end up with one really good take with a few alternate vocal tracks from which to pick and choose. You always hear something later, with fresh ears, that you didn’t catch at that moment. We got all the vocals done except for Take Me Back. I still didn’t know what I wanted to do with that song, but I had the Prayer Warriors coming in on Saturday, and I was hoping they were going to bring what I needed, even though none of us knew what that was.

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