It was a year ago that the live sessions for the album "Ardent Marigolds" occurred, with Jonathan Ragonese playing saxophones and Steve Rudolph playing piano. Yours truly produced the project and the live event. The record stands as a work of extreme beauty and was the result of a lot of love from all parties involved,
When we received the funds to underwrite this project I felt we owed it to our benefactor and ourselves to walk away with something exceptional. Although I knew our engineer Jon Rosenberg was more than capable of mastering the finished project, I felt strongly of the need for an independent and fresh pair of ears to play that role. So, we turned to Greg Calbi of Sterling Sound for the final wave of the magic wand. I'm glad we did.
In the days of yore, mastering was quite literally creating a master disk from which vinyl LPs were pressed. Levels were monitored and various frequencies adjusted to make sure the record playing stylus would not be distorting, that it could physically track the groove. Today, the focus is more on dynamics and overall level adjustments, so the volume of the music from track-to-track is perceived as consistent. There is an astonishing amount of truly badly mastered music out there, all in the interest of making things sound more in-your-face. Think of how irritating it is when the sound leaps out and rips your head off during a commercial break on TV - that gives you a sense of what bad mastering sounds like.
Proper mastering is truly a black art and witnessing the way Greg and the folks at Sterling approach the process was eye (and ear) opening. I've always had a high regard for exceptional sound, while keeping a healthy 11 foot pole distance from pure nose-bleed audiophilia.
What was perhaps most interesting was how extremely high-end equipment was so cleverly combined and the results judged soley on how well the music was made more ... musical.
This was not about slamming a music file into a laptop and running some generic software over it, mashing up the dynamics and beating you to death with Beats-worthy bass. This was watching one of the best in the business assemble the right tools from a considerable arsenal of gear, then thoughtfully reviewing and tweaking each musical selection. When I say "arsenal" I mean quite literally that: a remarkable selection of the most esoteric connecting cables, an array of often proprietary black boxes, some digital, some tubes, then back out to a high resolution audio file. Consideration was given to the unique aural characteristics of each piece of gear and how it effects the specific instrumentation, the exact quality of "sound" we were hoping to achieve.
Our goal was to minimize any digital edge to the saxophone, to enhance the natural warmth of the Steinway and to end up with a musical sounding recording that could function equally well under the most critical of listening sessions, or as background under dinner conversation, or, god-forbid, cutting through on the radio.
Credit should be given to Mr. Rosenberg whose care in mixing the music freed us up during mastering to pay attention to building levels of subtlety, rather than spending time fixing problems.
A link to the record is at the bottom of the ol' "Impresario" page. Listen, download and or buy the CD.