MISHA: A jazz piano album and microphone comparison all in one!
Recorded in DSD 256fs (Quad DSD) by Yarlung Records.
Misha is a character. It is hard to have a conversation with him without holding one’s sides after he gets you laughing so hard you can’t stop. Underneath this jocularity lies a warm heart and the soul and technique of a serious jazz pianist.
Misha knew that Yarlung’s microphones, generously provided by Gearworks Pro Audio for the last decade, were no longer available. Just as many record labels closed because of the collapse of the recording industry, Jon Fisher (our benefactor at Gearworks) told us that the company was struggling. Once one of the most important “go- to resources” for the professional recording world in Southern California, Gearworks found that Yarlung Records was their largest client, and unfortunately for their bottom line, Yarlung Records was a pro bono customer. We had ten great years with some of the most legendary microphones in the world, and we are grateful. Thank you Gearworks and thank you Jon!
Misha knew that we had an important upcoming recording session with Color Field String Quartet and Laura Strickling and Thomas Sauer scheduled at The Segerstrom Center for the Arts in Costa Mesa. (NativeDSD’s mastering engineer Tom Caulfield flew to California to make this recording with us last November, and it is thanks to Tom and his talent that Yarlung will soon be able to release our first surround sound recording. Coming up soon!)
Our recording in Costa Mesa was to be our first project with the young New York composer James Matheson. Misha sensed I was nervous about capturing this quartet and singer and piano with the customary “Yarlung Sound.” Misha offered to be our guinea pig, knowing that piano is both difficult to record and the perfect instrument to reveal strengths and weaknesses in microphones. What a musical guinea pig!
We recorded Misha in 256fs DSD, Yarlung’s first album not transferred to DSD from analog tape. Tom Caulfield had been twisting my arm to record directly in DSD for some time, and we are happy to have finally taken the leap. Our booklet contains notes on the microphones of course, but I am happy to report that our HAPI and Pyramix software (picture below) from Merging Technologies in Switzerland once again did its fabulous work. We did not have a single hiccup or reboot during our sessions, testament to the quality of what Merging Technologies creates. We are grateful to Ken Salkin, Misha’s executive producer, Merging Technologies, of course, and Salesforce.com as our corporate underwriter for this recording.
Yarlung Records made its first two jazz albums with Misha in Cammilleri Hall at the Brain and Creativity Institute at USC. Misha played piano as a member of Sophisticated Lady jazz quartet. Dr. Antonio Damasio invited us back to Cammilleri Hall for these microphone tests and Misha spent a long session improvising on the piano for us as we tried myriad microphones and a few additional microphone preamplifiers as well.
After our first “test,” I realized we had something special. Not only was Misha relaxed and goofing around musically on the piano, but the microphones sounded so different from one another that we realized we might have stumbled into what could become and interesting album for jazz enthusiasts and audiophiles alike. Sometimes the most enjoyable and effervescent music comes from play rather than from the intense pressure of a “Recording Session” with a capital R and a capital S. Some of our tests didn’t work, but most did. This album, thanks to Misha’s playful talent, generous support from our executive producer Ken Salkin, Salesforce.com which has supported Yarlung for over five years, and Antonio Damasio who built such a beautiful concert hall, is the result.
Let me describe the microphones and equipment briefly. Microphones and preamp are included in the track listing on page 2 of our booklet for easy reference.
My friends Ted Ancona and Philip Richards (pictures above, and known to Yarlung enthusiasts as engineers on our releases with the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra) brought some special microphones in the Ancona Audio collection. Ted owns one of the famous AKG C24 stereo microphones (a Yarlung favorite and the model we use most regularly) which used to belong to Frank Sinatra. He also brought two AKG C12-VR mics, the mono relatives of the C24, as well as a stereo Royer ribbon microphone and two Schoeps omnidirectional M222 vacuum tube mics with special deflectors Ted made for them. I had never seen these deflectors before.
Dan Schwartz, who became a friend of ours thanks to the music critic David Robinson from PFO, has engineered a number of albums himself and is also a well-known bass player. Dan introduced me to two microphones built by Tim de Paravicini from EAR in London, as well as an AKG C-24 which Tim redesigned for Dan using the original capsules but different vacuum tubes and a different power supply. Dan also introduced us to David Bock from Bock Audio in Los Angeles, who makes modern microphones of the quality we are used to from the best of the golden era. We used two Bock 5-ZERO-7s on a number of these tracks.
A caveat! Using minimal equipment as we normally do at Yarlung, we take great care to place each microphone in exactly “the spot” we want, depending on repertoire, instrument or instruments we are recording, intimacy of the recording and tonal balance. As you can see from our session photographs, not one of our microphones wound up in the spot we would have chosen had the engineers been working with a single stereo mic in our sessions with Misha. Rather than enabling final adjustments within a fraction of an inch, we got within “a foot or two” of where we would want these microphones. Nevertheless, our engineering team was able to capture the beauty of Misha’s playing in the glorious acoustics of Cammilleri Hall, while revealing significant differences between the various microphones. Please let me know how they sound to you. I look forward to your thoughts.
Yarlung has often been approached by engineers, producers, musicians and composers to release albums which have already been recorded. Yarlung is a small label, but thanks to Naxos Global Logistics, our worldwide physical distributor in Munich, our relationship with NativeDSD which is clearly one of the very finest download companies in the world, and superb manufacturing plants in Europe, Yarlung is proudly positioned to reach the widest possible audience for our musicians. In order to harness this ability for more musicians and recording projects than Yarlung can record itself in any given year, Yarlung founded Andelain, a sister record label designed to release high quality albums recorded by other people. Andelain will also be able to re-release musical treasures from prior eras that have become hard to find. Please reach out to us if you have a project you think might be appropriate for release on Andelain.
Our recording engineers for Misha were Ted Ancona, Jacob Horowitz, Philip Richards and Dan Schwartz. And with their help, Misha Bigos does us the honor of creating the first album for Andelain.