Don’t Knock the Knob Jockey

The other day I spent several hours in a tiny windowless closet. Don’t judge me- sometimes we all need a quiet place to contemplate life while lying in a shivering ball, wide-eyed and whimpering. But in this case, I was in an engineer’s studio in Midtown Manhattan, remastering the Catch and Release tracks for the upcoming CD release. And it occurred to me that we’ve never really talked about the post-recording process. Not that that’s any reason to start now. But someone’s got to cater to your insatiable appetite for sizzling new content. Begin.

 The first step after recording a tune is picking a take. Usually when recording an album, we’ll play each tune two or three times, then move on. But because we had all afternoon for each tune, we usually did five or six. Then I had to pick the best one. Now I don’t have children, but I imagine this process is akin to picking which one of your offspring you dislike the least. Actually, I find the whole listening-back process to be pretty unpleasant- it’s kind of like rubbing your dog’s nose in its own poo. But it’s got to be done, and eventually you settle on your favourite pooey child.   

 Then comes mixing. This is fairly mystifying to me, but it seems to involve manipulating the sound of each instrument within the recording, to try to recreate a real live performance. A saxophone played directly into a microphone doesn’t really sound anything like a saxophone aimed at your head from the stage of a jazz club. So we have to fiddle with it. Different frequencies are toyed with, and effects are added to mimic the sound bouncing off walls and people. Then we fix the levels: bass softer here, drums a bit lower here, saxophone louder here. And here. And in this bit. And I think that’s mixing: getting the instrument sounds, the “room” sounds, and making sure the saxophone is loud enough. 

  

 The mastering process is even more mysterious to me, and I have to confess I’ve dropped off in more than one mastering session. But basically, this is the last step in the process before the album goes to print. Some jiggling is done with overall sound, beginnings and ends of the tracks are tidied up, appropriate spaces are wedged between tunes, and the whole mess is sent to the printers. 

 I have great respect for the folks who devote themselves to this discipline. They sit for hours on end in an airless box, with an intensity of focus which I can’t maintain for more than a few minutes. I try. Really I do. I talk in really abstract terms involving colours and depths and weights. I watch for when the engineer twiddles a knob, and I say Hm or Yeah. I even invested in a pair of those glasses with the open eyes painted on the lenses so they can’t tell I’ve drifted off. That’s how much I care. And when people ask me who did the mixing, I tell them, and then add that I was there. I was involved. I was putting in. A lot of people snore when they’re concentrating.

 Anyway, next time you’re listening to an album, take a second to notice the “sound”. Somebody made that. 

 Righto, more soon. Cheers, Nick

Afternoon Has Broken, Also Brain: The Price of the Jazz Life

Firstly let me apologise if this post descends into indecipherable drivel. But that’s my writing style, and it’s got me where I am today. Aside from that, I just read a disturbing article informing me that my late-night lifestyle is making me sick and stupid; my ability to form coherent sentences is diminishing, and my days of comprehending simple arithmetic may be numbered. I don’t even understand that last bit!

I spend most of my nights in jazz clubs, and have done so since I was in my late teens. Back in Australia, this wasn’t so bad, as the action would generally wind up by midnight or 1AM (we all had to be up early to feed the wombats). Then I came to New York. On my first trip here in 1996, Smalls Jazz Club was open until 8AM, and often later. I’d get my arse handed to me at the jam session, go to a diner to berate myself over breakfast, and be in bed by noon. These days, I’m older and wiser, and am tucked up by 6AM.

Inaccurate band T-shirt from my youth

Conventional wisdom says that we eventually adapt to a change in sleep patterns; that if we keep our hours regular, and turn in at the same time every day, the sleep will be just as beneficial. I even dimly recall reading articles that claimed our most creative work is done after midnight. But recent studies refute all this, and moreover, suggest that staying up all night and sleeping all day, while undeniably awesome, has some pretty serious downsides, namely type-two diabetes, heart disease, cancer, and a “significantly shorter lifespan”. Additionally, these studies show that, “the brains of workers who’d done 10 years of night shifts had aged by an extra 6 1/2 years- they couldn’t remember as much or think so quickly.” And at 4AM, apparently my ability to think is the same as if I was drunk. Of course, I wouldn’t know what that’s like, but it sounds serious and fun.

Anyway, I thought I’d prove all these so-called experts wrong by doing a bit of investigative googling and coming up with some brainy achievers who share my habits. Unfortunately, many people known as “night owls” (Freud, Churchill, Tolstoy, Mozart, Nabokov, Obama, etc) are nodding off at a relatively respectable 1AM. For real day-sleepers, here’s what I came up with: pianist and hypochondriac fusspot Glenn Gould; gloomy ponderers Franz Kafka and Marcel Proust; literary lunatic Hunter S Thompson (check out his insane daily routine), and maniacal dingbats Josef Stalin and Adolf Hitler. The only glimmer of hope is Rolling Stones madman Keith Richards, and it’s looking more and more like he’s not actually human. I’m not in healthy, well-adjusted company.

60856781

The most frustrating part of these reports is that they offer no solution other than doing what every minuscule fibre of my body is desperately pleading with me to do. I want to hear that I can reverse the negative effects of my boogie-loving lifestyle by, I don’t know, eating carrots? Finishing the occasional cryptic crossword? Curbing my consumption of the blood of comely young virgins? But no. It seems I’ll have to resign myself to incremental idiocy and an early demise.

Are you an all-nighter? Someone you know? Want to cheer me up with tales of healthy, alert, intelligent, productive, long-living nocturnalists? Use the comments box below, but not too many big words please. Anyway, got to go- it’s nearly midnight and lunch isn’t going to make itself.

Righto, more soon. Cheers, Nick

A Big Finish: Tune #8 in Pictures

We made it! The last tune in the Catch and Release series is in the can! It’ll be up online next week, and I’ll put up a video outlining the tune tomorrow. But in the meantime, check out some pics from the session (as always, thanks to the brilliant and talented Una)! And we can reveal our special guest for the big finale: the great Jerry Weldon!!

IMG_1137

n5

n6

n4

n7

IMG_1079

IMG_1075

n2

n8IMG_0999IMG_1168n9n3IMG_1077n10IMG_0964n1

Hempton Band in Arty Noir Masterpiece!

It’s been action central here at Catch and Release HQ, which should really mean lots of posts on this blog. Unfortunately most of the goings-on are unsuitable for broadcast. So instead we bring you BY FAR the coolest video we’ve ever been a part of.

Our resident videographer, the all-around awesome Una, growing tired of my ham-fisted attempts at music videos, took the tune and her footage from the session, and whipped up this arty little ripper. Thanks Una! Hope you dig it…

Like the tune? Buy it for a buck on iTunes: Catch Up

or Amazon: Catch Up

An Internet First: Cat Pictures!!

Tune #7 went down a couple of weeks ago, and as usual, the fabulous Una was on the scene, trusty camera in hand, to show why music is not a visual medium. But Minnow the cat’s a looker isn’t she??

n7

n1

IMG_9791

IMG_9750

IMG_9746

IMG_9930

n5

IMG_9871

n9

IMG_9910

n2

n4

IMG_9838

IMG_9831

IMG_9749

IMG_9935

n12

Mostly Froot Loops, A Bit Bran Flakes: C&R So Far…

We’re on the home stretch of this caper, and I thought I’d take a quick look at how things are going so far. When we eventually get to the end, I’ll do a thorough dusting of the crime scene, but for now, here’s where we stand.

Musically, I couldn’t be happier with what we’ve come up with so far. The cats have really outdone themselves- musically outstanding, super supportive of the project, and tolerant of my fluctuating emotional state. And I couldn’t be more thrilled with the generous contribution of our special guests Peter Bernstein, Rossano Sportiello and Bruce Harris- and there are more surprise visitors to come!

It’s not all a bowl of Froot Loops though. The biggest challenge I’ve been facing is fatigue- certainly my own, and quite possibly yours too. I don’t think I really grasped the magnitude of this thing when I started- it’s one thing for a whole freaking year! What was I thinking!? Promotion for a normal project might run for a month, and talking about oneself for that long is exhausting. Now it’s been nine months of trying to think of new things to say, new video ideas, new places to stick that effing plastic fish, all with out making one of us want to beat me senseless. And there’s another three months to go…

5145521484_7d2f72e5c7

Reception has been mixed. I’ve had a great response from journalists: I think the concept gave them something to write about, and we’ve had articles on at least a dozen websites and blogs. Most notably, the wonderful Something Else! has been on board since the get go, putting their knowledgeable ears to each track as it dropped, and I thank them whole-heartedly for their continued interest. And I was well chuffed with E.J Iannelli’s in-depth profile at All About Jazz. Radio, on the other hand, has not been quite so receptive. With a few notable exceptions (Radio Adelaide, KSDS San Diego), radio stations have been reluctant to jump in. It seems they’re not moving to the digital format as easily as I’d thought. I don’t think it’s a sound issue, because the tracks I send them are higher than CD quality; so it’s either that they’re dragging their feet in the system-upgrade department, or they just think the music stinks.

But response from friends, acquaintances, and passers-by has been wonderful. Folks have been stopping me at gigs to ask how it’s going, when the next track is due, why haven’t I sent them their free track when they signed onto the blog three weeks ago; all signs of actual interest and enthusiasm. And this feedback, this genuine show of curiosity, is what’s going to put the fire into these last couple of installments. And I have a feeling we’re going to finish big. The next track is going to be a change of pace, something on the abstract side; and track #8 is going to see us going out swinging (with the potential aid of a very special guest. I’m going to get nervous, or not,  as soon as he tells me whether he wants to do it. Sizzle!!)

So there we have it, approximately three quarters of the way through, and far more ups than downs. Thank you for being a part of it so far; I hope you’ll stay with us, and tell your friends! Cheers, Nick

“Nordberg Suite”: The Moving Picture!

Here’s a little video to accompany tune #6, “Nordberg Suite”. It features Bruce Harris on the trumpet, Jeremy Manasia at the piano, Dave Baron on the bass, Minnow the Smalls cat, and the Catch and Release robot fish in a jar. Hope you enjoy!

Dig the tune? Buy it for a buck from iTunes or Amazon!

Tinkling Tune #6 All Over The Ivories

Tune #6 is in the can! It’s called “Nordberg Suite”, and will be available Monday! Here’s a quick look from the new Steinway at Mezzrow in NYC!

(Missed one of the earlier tunes? Grab ’em here: https://itunes.apple.com/us/artist/nick-hempton/id449388179)

A Mad Dash

When we left off last, the fate of tune #6 was in doubt. With no tune written, no band booked, and a much-hyped snow storm on the way, we were right in the poo. And sure enough, poo-bound we remained, as the deadly snowmageddon blew in, burying the city in almost half an inch of snow. The sidewalks were crunchy that day, my friends. We hunkered down under the onslaught, afraid to leave our homes in case our shoes got wet. Schools were closed to prevent learning, and our engineer was trapped in his fortress of solitude in the frosty Bronx. So we had to cancel the recording. Since then, our drummer, Dan, has jetted off to be successful in Eastern Europe, and now we’re nine days from our due date. But we’re not giving up just yet.

resize

Smalls is booked for Monday. Jeremy and Dave are booked for piano and bass respectively. I tried to convince a certain older, fairly famous drummer to play with us, but according to his manager, the meagre fee I was offering wasn’t sufficient. The sad thing is, he’s a super-nice cat- I’ve chatted with him several times, and played with him once- and I’m sure if I’d caught him in person, he would have said yes. But it wasn’t to be. So I’m trying something different. Piano, bass, saxophone, no drums, and special guest Bruce Harris on the trumpet! Bruce is a killer young trumpeter with whom we’ve played several times in the past- he’s done Smalls gigs with us, and was a guest on our old Smithfield Sunday Session, but we’ve never got him into the studio. So this is going to be brilliant! All I’ve got to do is write a tune…

So, recording Monday, mixing Tuesday, send the tune to press and radio on Wednesday, and up online for you on Monday March 2! The pre-release sizzle- videos, photos, etc.- will all be crammed into the space of a week, but considering the whole thing nearly fell in a heap, I hope you’ll understand.

I should mention that the Catch and Release material is getting a great response when we play it live. We play every other Thursday at Smalls (the adults-only midnight slot. I work blue…), and we’ve been trotting out all five tunes, in various orders, to enthusiastic crowds.  If you’re in the NYC area, come down and hang with us, or if not, watch us on the Smalls live web stream. I’ll talk more about this in a future post, but if you go to the Smalls website and sign up, you can watch everything that happens, live! It’s also a great opportunity to hear jazz musicians, who’ve forgotten about the cameras, engage in some fairly egregious slander. Enjoy!

Righto, that’s it for now. I’ll put up a vid of the new tune as soon as I’ve written it, and photos from the session will be up early next week. Cheers!

Analogue Jammin’

My birthday was a few weeks ago. No, it’s ok, really. I wouldn’t have wanted you to make a fuss anyway. I’m fine. Really. But I long ago reached the age where a birthday present is more important for the thought than the item itself. I never really believed my Dad when he’d tell me that all he wanted was a bottle of booze or a book voucher, but that’s me now. If I really want something, I’ll just go and get it myself. And this year, because no one was thoughtful enough to get it for me, I got myself something I’ve been wanting for ages.

Last night, here in the New York area, we were trapped in our homes due to what was being advertised as the blizzard to end all blizzards. Feet of snow and deadly gales were promised. Public transportation was shut down, vehicles were banned from the streets, panicked suckers emptied supermarket shelves, and I got an unexpected night off work. At some point during the evening I decided I should try to be productive with these bonus hours, and set about fiddling with one of the online aids to productivity on which I waste so much time. After a lengthy period of grinding my teeth and shaking my fist threateningly at the screen, I I threw my hands up in theatrical disgust, and gently slammed the computer shut. I needed respite from this maddening technology. It was too snowy to take the penny-farthing out for a spin, so I turned to the next best thing: my new record player.

I couldn’t be happier with this new addition to the Hemmo homestead. And it’s not just sound quality- everything about the experience is enjoyable and satisfying. Shopping for records, pretending I know anything about “vinyl grading”, prissily removing every trace of deadly dust from the disc while wearing the full-body rubber suit the guy at the record store told me I needed. But mostly the fact that listening to an album is now an event: now when I put on music, I sit down and listen to it!

rural-mailman-mark-whalon-at-home-listening-to-phonograph-records
Not me. Yet.

 However, at some point last night (during Bird with Strings, I believe), I was struck by the irony (or possibly, hypocrisy) of my situation. Here I am, making a big fuss about my fancy digital releases, bemoaning the fact that American jazz radio stations haven’t moved with the times, espousing the virtues of single-track online music distribution, while at home I’m listening to music in almost the oldest way possible. Next year I might upgrade to piano rolls. But really, I don’t think there’s much of a contradiction. Vinyl is fantastic, and I highly recommend it, but I don’t suppose it’s really the way forward. I’ve always thought that digital files and vinyl should be the major players- nothing against CD, but it’s neither the best sounding nor the most portable. Nor is it nerdy enough for me. Anyway I’ve got to run if I want to post this blog before the telegraph office closes.

Who else is getting their vinyl on?