The Story Behind the Recording: Velour Presents the Jammys Aftershow Blend, 6/27/01
The recording of a concert preserves a performance and protects the occurrence from being effaced by the subsequent passage of time. In this respect, concert recordings might be compared to concepts stored in memory. Yet there is a fundamental difference here: while recollections can be easily influenced by time, perception, or controlled substances, a recording isolates and solidifies the incident. Therefore, a good recording acts as a reliable and relatively unbiased witness to the concert.
Shortcomings to this first hand account are plentiful however there is no light show, no audience, and obviously no band on stage. Sometimes the music is more understandable in retrospect, other times it is lost among clouds of distortion. Other factors such as the venue size and location are difficult to imagine without a frame of reference. In short, a taper’s DAT machine retains the output of a highly variable experience, yet it does not necessarily translate all the variables that went into the experience.
When someone finds a concert tape meaningful, he or she is lending it a past and a future. That is, there is some familiarity with the situation that enables the listener to ascertain the significance of the performance. For example, maybe you are familiar with the musicians or the venue or the time period of the recording. Maybe you were even at the show. On the other hand, perhaps your buddy gave you some unlabeled discs, or you received a promo CD from an unknown band. In any event, the listener fills the inherent voids to the best of his or her ability. In cases where familiarity abounds, the holes are easy to fill. When details are vague however, this task becomes almost insurmountable.
The attentive listener needs some perspective in order to make heads or tails of a tape. When I finally had a chance to listen to the discs from the Jammys Aftershow party at the Mercury Lounge from last summer (6/27/01), I thought the music was interesting, but this show, perhaps more than any other in my collection, needed an explanation beyond the sparse labeling of the discs. In order to obtain this insight, I turned to the fellow who mastered the show, Peter Costello. When I finally caught up with Peter he is currently on the road with Shannon McNally (www.shannonmcnally.com) our chat considered a concert tape from two different angles: the literal perspective, which considers a concert tape as an accurate historical account of an event, and also a private one that utilizes the tape to substantiate a set of subjective feelings.
MW: The show we’ll be talking about later took place as a post-Jammys party, but first things first. What was your impression of the Jammys that night?
PC: From this year I thought the most interesting thing was Del McCoury Band with DJ Logic and Robert Randolph doing “Swing Low Sweet Chariot.” There is definitely an unrehearsed quality to almost everything that happens and sometimes that gives it a freshness and other times makes it a train wreck. And often times, both of those things happen in the same song. There were certainly times during the Del McCoury/Logic/Robert Randolph thing where people were giving too much space to the other players. Players don’t want to step on toes but that sometimes takes away some of the aggressiveness that is inherent in pushing the envelope.
MW: So you’re saying when you take musicians from different backgrounds and put them on the same stage, you’re taking a gamble.
PC: Yeah, and sometimes the gamble will pay off and sometimes it doesn’t. It is so hard to put something like that together. You have so many different musicians and there is so much craziness going on and it is difficult to turn it into a solid performance unless the players have some experience playing with each other. For example, I thought the stuff Soulive did with John Scofield during the first Jammys at Irving Plaza was unbelievable. They were killing it and that is because they had played with Scofield a bunch of times, including playing with him in the studio and they were all familiar with his style and it just worked so well.
MW: Anyway you left the Jammys a little early to go to the show I want to focus on, describe how that event came about.
PC: That was a concert put together by Velour Presents called the Jammys Aftershow Blend. Basically the concept was an extension of the Jammys. Just get a bunch of cats together who can play this time on a little bit more of a solid basis because it was a lot of guys who had played together in the past and put them on stage to see what happens.
MW: The scene at the Mercury Lounge was more relaxed, with a smaller audience comprised mostly of family and friends?
PC: Yeah, it was. There was a lot of pressure on those guys at the first gig, it being a large crowd and them playing with people they’ve never met before. This was going to be a much looser, late-night-go-up-and-see-what-happens sort of thing. I think there was a consensus like, Thank God that’s over, now let’s go have fun.’
MW: Were you excited?
PC: It was actually depressing for me that there were so few people there. [The 250-person capacity venue contained about 80 people.] It almost had the atmosphere of a private show, even though it wasn’t because not a lot of people came down. People were saving themselves up for the Gathering of the Vibes, plus it was a Thursday night, so that took a lot of people out of it, and the Jammys were still going on when it started. You know how things get.
MW: Yeah, New York City is crazy. So many different things going on. You’ve got to pick your spots I guess. So who played at the show?
PC: This is going to tax my memory a little bit. Musicians who rotated in and out throughout the night included Eric Krasno (Soulive), Brian Jordan (Karl Denson’s Tiny Universe), and Mark Whitfield on guitar; Justin Wallace (ulu) and later Les Claypool (Frog Brigade, Oysterhead) on bass, DJ Logic (Project Logic) on turntables; Neal Evans (Soulive) James Hurt and Nick Casper on keyboards; James Edwards and Deantoni Parks (Kudu) on drums; Ekene (Ekene & The Source), Baba, Goapele (Spearhead) and some other unknown woman on vocals.
MW: So the people who played were for the most part either NYC guys, or Velour guys, or both, which begs the question: how did Les Claypool get thrown into the mix?
PC: That was all Rachel Seiden. She started talking to Les backstage at the Jammys and convinced him to come down. As soon as I heard Les was there, I told Kraz, then I walked up to Les who was sitting at the bar and said, A bunch of the guys here think you should play and I count myself among them.’ I’m sure that myself planting the seed didn’t hurt, and then when Les saw Deantoni Parks playing drums he was sold. I can remember he walked into the room and just kept getting closer and closer and closer to the front of the stage until he was standing directly at the lip of the stage just going off watching Deantoni play drums. Finally Kraz invited him up to play.
MW: For the most part everything was improvised?
PC: They might have played a Herbie Hancock tune that I don’t know well enough to name, but in general it was improvised.
MW: Sometimes improvised sets have a high degree of sloppiness.
PC: This was like a slow boil. It took a while for people to get comfortable because there was so much going on on stage. It wasn’t like four or five people up there, there was more like seven or eight or nine, plus you had people rotating in and out. Like with almost every all-star jam, it got better as it got closer to the end.
MW: Kraz, Claypool and Logic, among others are sharing the stage. This line-up sounds too good to be true. Was it? Does it translate to tape?
PC: There are certain moments that make me really psyched that I taped it, but in general it is not something I would listen to 50 times. It is no 5/8/77, but it is more of a curio in a lot of ways. Its just cool that what was happening between these musicians is preserved for longevity. There is a good chance those cats will never play together again. Still, when I was on the road with Logic last fall, we were talking about putting together a Project with Deantoni, Claypool, John Medeski and Logic. We’d call it the In-Humans.
MW: As a taper you know that due to the impromptu nature of the jams they are going to be rough around the edges. Why bother to preserve a performance you know is not going to be perfect?
PC: As a taper what I want to do is to capture energy and that is almost an impossible task. I try to control as many factors as I can, that is why I do the onstage board mix. Still, these steps don’t necessarily guarantee anything.
MW: It sounds like you’re chasing a White Whale of sorts. Even with the best recording, you’ll never be able to recreate the entire experience.
PC: For me, the tape is like an aid that augments the memory of that experience. A soundtrack to the evening’s events if you will.
MW: In other words, the tape of the show is just one facet of what happened to you on a given date?
PC: Yes, in conjunction with the tapes, my memories add to the fullness of the experience. At the show, there are always things going on outside of the music. Maybe you’re wasted, maybe some of your friends are wasted, maybe you’re just talking, maybe someone catches your eye from across the room, maybe you have to go to the bathroom during the best part of the show. When you re-listen to a show, there is always a surprise on tape, there is always something you missed.
MW: Is there such a thing as the perfect tape?
PC: I don’t think I’ve ever nailed it. There might never be a time when I accomplish what I set out to do. I might never do it.
MW: Still you have to admit there have been some successes.
PC: It all depends on how you evaluate the word success.’ Basically, there are two extremes at work: my quest for the perfect tape vs. the satisfaction that so many of my recordings have given myself and others. You can make an average recording of a show and then hand it to someone the day after the show and they love you. That is success on a grand level Not exactly what I set out to do, but it is like a fringe benefit.
MW: One last question: what type of mics did you run at this show?
PC: The source for this show is Schoeps 621s on stage with 4 ft poles, split about 6 ft at the lip of the stage, back through the snake into a Sonosax (which was provided by Eric Greenberger) mixed with a stereo soundboard feed into a Beringher 802A feeding into a Sonic AD2K+ straight to DAT. There were two full tapes of the show made. One by my DAP1 and the other by Eric Greenberger’s DAP1. Finally after the Jammys were over, DJ Dave Nolan from the Wetlands came down and patched his M1 in so he got the last half of the show.