Music: John Scofield's Gospel Mission

Mar 1, 2009 12:00 PM, By Ken Micallef

BLUES GUITAR, SOULFUL VOCALS ON PIETY STREET

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L to R: George Porter Jr., Jon Cleary, John Scofield and Ricky Fataar

L to R: George Porter Jr., Jon Cleary, John Scofield and Ricky Fataar
Photo: Shawn Hill

“Sco's guitar is always going to sound like him,” Farber says. “It's the way he plays the instrument and attacks the strings, and he's been using the same guitar forever. This was a little different than recording him on some of his jazz albums only because he was playing blues, and at quite a high volume. To walk into his booth was a little dangerous.”

Running Neve 33135 mic pre's on the amps, Farber used a Shure SM57 and a CharterOak tube mic on the Matchless, and a Shure SM57 and a Coles 4038-SA ribbon for the Vox. Mic placement was “probably not off-axis,” Farber tries to recall. “But I don't know how far from the amp; maybe 10 inches. I move the placement around a little bit after I hear it. They wind up in different places all the time. The mics were probably close to the middle of the speaker.

“I use two different mics on each amp for different colors. Without having to EQ anything, I can play with the balance of those four microphones and create what is the right color and tone for the individual song. I had two different colors on each amp, and each amp had a different color from the other one.” Additionally, Farber placed a Blue Bottle mic in “omni” high in Scofield's isolation booth to capture ambient sound.

Farber compresses guitar while recording, “basically to contain a few things that might stick out too much, using a gentle-ish setting.” Here, he had Neve 33609 compressors for the Matchless and a Daking FET II on the Vox.

A first for a Scofield album, Piety Street's vocals give the music a soulful and uplifting spirit. Jon Cleary's and John Bouttè's vocals were recorded in the main room, along with piano and bass, but the piano was covered to prevent leakage, and the bass amp was out in a hallway, well-isolated from the live room. Farber ran a CharterOak tube mic through a Portico pre and an LA-2A compressor for Cleary (who favored a lot of compression). Boutte required a simpler chain — a U47 mic with a dbx 160 compressor.

In a particularly unusual production move, Scofield and Farber preferred to hard-pan the guitar and keyboards, a result of their mutual fondness for '60s jazz and R&B records.

“James and I did this before on my record Feels Good to Me,” Scofield explains. “We separated keyboard and guitar hard-left and hard-right and it worked really well. I like hard-panning in jazz records. It can really help to get definition on the sound.”

Even then, Farber placed a bit of the Blue Bottle ambient sound in the left channel to prevent drastic isolation of the guitar. Once back at Avatar for the mix, Farber maintained the hard-panning aesthetic, thinking of it as a live performance.

“I just try to make it sound like a band,” he says. “I want you to feel like you are listening to a band playing on a stage for the most part. Maybe a little bit of a super-extreme version of that with this record, because even if you are sitting in the front row and the piano and guitar are on the left and right, you wouldn't hear it this separate.”

At Avatar, Farber mixed Piety Street on his favorite Neve console, using an SSL FX G 384 stereo compressor on the mix, Neve 31102 and Pultec EQP-1A EQs, and two reverbs: an EMT-140ST plate and a TC Electronic M5000 with the Gold Foil Plate setting.

“The TC Electronic reverb is what we had at Piety Street,” Farber recalls. “I got used to that sound. I don't use a lot of the software reverbs; I'm a jazz guy. The mixing was really mostly balance and reverb, and the hard-panning was carried over from the rough mixes at Piety Street.”

Scofield has recorded jam-band fusions, straight-ahead jazz joints, tributes to R&B masters, duets, trios and quartets with fellow master musicians, and one album where the goal was simply to be “quiet.” Piety Street finds the 59-year-old guitarist creating yet a new rift in his sound, one borne of adversity and perhaps a little faith.

“Each time you record you learn something,” Scofield says. “This was great because I had the adversity with the guitar amps, but I really like the guitar sound despite the fact that I didn't have my amps. It made me think, ‘You can always compromise.’ Recording is a compromise because it never sounds like it does to your ears, like the band in the room. But a lot of times it can sound better. On a good day it can sound incredible.”






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