Music: Jim Campilongo

Mar 1, 2010 12:00 PM, By Barbara Schultz

EXTRAORDINARY GUITARIST PAINTS ‘ORANGE’

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First, Jim Campilongo and producer Anton Fier had to agree on an approach: When they began production for Campilongo's latest mostly instrumental album, the guitarist viewed the project as a Jim Campilongo Trio record, one that would capture the vibe and the repertoire of the guys he plays with every Monday night at the Living Room in New York City.

“I had a different agenda,” says Fier, the Golden Palominos drummer/frontman whose eclectic tastes and talents have led him to produce Drivin' N' Cryin', Joe Henry and others. “I wanted Jim to make a different kind of record than he'd made before. One of the first things I said to him when we started talking about this was, ‘It's time to paint your masterpiece.’”

ONLINE EXTRAS

READ:
Extended Interview

LISTEN:
"No Expectations"

LISTEN:
"Backburner"

Campilongo, whose eight previous albums have shown many facets of his Telecaster mastery, and who lately plays with Norah Jones' Little Willies as well, was a bit leery of making what he calls a “business card record.” “You know what I mean,” Campilongo says. “It's ‘Joey plays Albert King blues. Joey plays Wes Montgomery jazz. Joey does red-hot country pickin'.’ I'm not putting down proverbial Joey, but I feel uneasy during those records. The records I'm usually attracted to are like: It's a rainy day, I'm going to put on Joni Mitchell Blue. Or it's a crazy day, I'm going to put on Miles Davis On the Corner. I was worried that my record would switch and sway in an unnerving way where you couldn't really hang with it. But I have to say I really feel differently now.”

It's one of those intangible things, but Fier and Campilongo definitely created tracks that coalesce beautifully. From his almost Hendrix-like aggression on the opener, “Backburner,” to the airy “Blues for Roy,” to the bittersweet solo performance of “When You Wish Upon a Star” that closes the album, the tunes are unified by Campilongo's musical soul and character.

Engineered by Yohei Goto, Orange was tracked at Brooklyn Recording and One East (both in New York City). As creative recording and budgeting require these days, different studios served different purposes. Basic tracks were cut in the big Neve room at Brooklyn. Fier says Goto was the perfect engineer for the job, in part because he had previously been on staff at both of the facilities.

“The Neve at Brooklyn is two custom sides of an 8068 that are put together,” Goto explains. “The right side and left side are customized differently. It's a little hard for people who use it for the first time, but it sounds great. I was an assistant there five years ago. That's why I could do things really quick, which was important because we only had three days. It's a really nice studio. There aren't many studios like that in New York anymore — the room, the mic selection, the board, the gear, big room — but we can't afford hours and hours working there.”

Goto made an abbreviated schedule work by setting up extra microphones to capture all of the styles and nuances of the trio's playing. “For example, I put up two different sets of overheads [on Tony Mason's drums],” Goto says. “One pair was Coles 4033 ribbon mics — not a sensitive mic — so it's good for the hard-hitting rock sound. But they're not as good for subtle jazz music, so I had to put more sensitive mics up also: Neumann KM254s. They are the opposite — way more sensitive than the Coles to pick up the little subtle things like brushes. We let them just play it, and then later on chose which mics to use from those two overhead sounds.

“The other thing that was a challenge was we recorded [all of the basic tracks] live without headphones,” Goto continues. “Everybody is in the same room, and Jim doesn't want headphones. So next to Jim is the [stand-up] bass, and it's hard to hear that to Jim when he's playing live.”

Goto took a DI from the bass amp and set up a speaker in the tracking room so that the guitarist could hear Stephan Crump's bass. When it was time to mix, of course, the live recordings posed some engineering challenges because of the bleed that all the close-miking in the world can't eliminate.

“Everything is one,” Goto says simply. “If you EQ the bass, it will change the sound of the drum and the guitar because everything is one.”

But the feel of recording as one was exactly what Campilongo was after: “I don't like to wear headphones when I play. I don't want to re-create this thing we've done at 12:30 at night with a great sexy audience watching us, and we're playing and it feels like we're all in it together, and then go into a recording studio at two in the afternoon and put on headphones and try to get the same kind of performance. It's a tough thing to do.”

Goto transferred the tracks from the Brooklyn sessions into Pro Tools, and then brought them to Matt Wells' One East, a studio Fier says he really appreciates because it is a rare “affordable Neve room, with one of the best control rooms I've heard. You can listen very quietly and still hear everything accurately.”

At One East, Campilongo tracked his solo pieces (“Awful Pretty, Pretty Awful,” and “When You Wish Upon a Star”) and two duets with guitarist Steve Cardenas, and overdubbed some guitar parts. This was also where Goto recorded Campilongo and singer Leah Siegel's dark and beautiful performances on two of the cover tunes that Fier helped select — The Stones' “No Expectations” and Iggy and the Stooges' “No Fun” — and where the album was mixed.

“Selfishly speaking, I like records that go on a journey,” says Fier. “Jim had already made records documenting the current bands he had in the studio, and I thought it was time for him to do something different. What makes this work is Jim has his own voice. He has his own sound, which, as a musician, is what one strives for one's entire life.”






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