I Aggregate Myself

The writing continues, even as a bought of viral misery kept me preserving my strength for things other than this blog. But I’ll be back in fighting trim soon.

In the meantime, I wrote my 100th column for ClassicalTV, something that came directly out of my waking fever dreams, and the May issue of The Brooklyn Rail is out with my piece, “The Producer as Critic.” Though it’s online, the article was written for print so was limit to about 750 words. Here I can augment it with specific examples of records that are either examples of excellent production, not just in recording quality but in how the music is put together, and of records that are harmed by bad production decisions.

You don’t have to enjoy Tears for Fears to listen with honest ears and hear the masterful production on Seeds of Love, not just “Sowing the Seeds of Love,” but the patiently made, sweeping arch structure of “Woman in Chains.”

Amok. from Atoms for Peace, is going to end up as one of the best records of the year, and one of the reasons is that it is brilliantly produced. The music is full of sounds, detail and activity, yet the sound is lean, almost minimal at times. It’s the product of great critical listening.

There were two records released last year from two excellent trumpeters, Phillip Dizack and Nadje Noordhuis, that were both harmed by their production. Dizacks’ End of an Era matches his powerful sound with emotional intensity, but it starts off at a fever pitch and never lets up from there. You have to be in a particular mood to enjoy the extreme intensity from the very first sound, and if you aren’t, the disc is off-putting. There’s a lot of good music on it, but it would have benefited from different sequencing. Noordhuis is a different player, lyrical and with a ravishingly beautiful sound, and her disc matches her musical personality as well. But why oh why put Geoff Keezer at the piano bench? He follows her understated, melodic playing by using his solos as an opportunity to strangle the tunes and crush them under his pounding hands. He’s totally out of place here and ruins mood and texture. It amazes me that Noordhuis didn’t hear this in the studio.

A producer needs to hear and think critically, be an advocate for not only things that work but things that are worth trying — be a critic in the essential meaning of the term. That’s what’s missing from the Bad Plus’ latest, which is yet another rehash of ideas they pioneered a decade ago. These guys are such smart, talented jazz musicians that it astonishes me they would settle on being so formulaic, they’re turning into a premature jazz version of the Rolling Stones. In contrast, the new Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds record, Push The Sky Away, is wonderful, because it maintains Cave’s core strengths as a songwriter and storyteller but pushes the music into entirely new territory, creating settings of loops rather than worrying about where the bridge and chorus go. It refreshes the music and makes it sound both familiar and brand new, because it’s truly both.

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