Straight To The Heart
Warner Brothers 25150-1
Produced by Marcus Miller; engineered by Elliot Scheiner; recorded live at S.I.R. Studio, New York, by Le Mobile; additional recording at Greene Street Recording, A&R Recording, New York, and Amigos Studios, North Hollywood; additional engineering by Marti Robertson, Guy Charbonneau, Paul Brown and Jerry Soloman.
Saxman David Sanborn has brought new meaning to the term “studio musician” during his career, recording with such diverse artists as David Bowie, Stevie Wonder, James Taylor and John Scofield. But his solo albums are what have made him one of the most popular instrumental artists to emerge since Herb Alpert’s heyday in the ’60’s. Straight To The Heart, his first live album, was produced by bassist/songwriter Marcus Miller, and in both sound quality and emotion of performance it shows Sanborn in top form.
“David and all the people around him had decided that he plkayed so much differently when it was a live situation that it would be nice to have that on a record,” Miller says. “And S.I.R. kinsd of gave you the best of both worlds. You got the chance to be ina live situation with an audience, but at the same time acoustically you had the control that you don’t have in a huge concert hall because of the reverberation and stuff. So S.I.F. seemed like a good choice.” They invited a couple hundred guests to the stsudio, and recorded on three different nights. “A lot of people say the sound is so good it’s hard to believe it’s a live album,” the producer continues. “We really did work at getting good sound quality. We wanted the energy of the live thing, and we used some of the live ambience, but we wanted to make sure the sound was clean.”
Miller and engineer Elliot Scheiner set up a couple mikes in the back of the room for ambient sound, but wound up not using them much. “S.I.R. isn’t a huge place,” Miller sayd, “so instead of getting that big auditorium sound that we thought the ambient mikes would give us, they gave us more of a band-in-a-basement sound. It wasn’t real reverby. So wew used mostly the close miking. David had two mikes, one on a stand, and then we attached a PZM to the bell of his horn because David moves around a lot when he plays. After the first night we realized we were losing half of what he was playing, because whenever he wasn’t dead center on the mike we lost a note.” The wireless mike they put on the bell of his hortn is the same model Miles Davis uses on his trumpet. But Miller wound up using the sound from that mike only when absolutely necessary. “It made the horn sound pretty nasal,” he says, “and I think David’s horn needs room to breathe before you mike it. Horns need time to breathe. The air does something to the sound of a horn. You can’t just put a mike in a horn and expect it to sound warm.”
Guitarist Hiram Bullock getss a variety of sounds out of his rig. On the album-opening “Hideaway,” his fuzzy blues solo sounds doubled note-for-note between the two speakers. “I think it was the delay between the miked sounds of the amp and the sound of his guitar going straight into a direct box,” says to producer. “Sometimes Hiram’s guitar got a little dirty, and we had to choice of punching in and fixing it or just leaving it like it was. The feeling was really good on that stuff, so we decided to leave it. There’s some dirt on there, but it’s a live album so you have to accept some of that.” Later in the same tune, Sanborn takes flight on his alto, first blowing a simple chant, then sliding down an awkward scale. He finds a strange progression and repeats it while toying with the rhythm. “All of the solos were done live,” says Miller. “We punched in one thing on Hiram when his amp started making really loud noises and crackling for about two bars. We doubled David’s horn a couple of times, but as far as the actual performance, that was it, the original performance.”
On the Al Breen tune “Love and Happiness,” Sanborn in over-dubbed “about 18 time,” according to Miller, creating a powerful all-Sanborn horn section. “The horn line is so important, and we didn’t feel like putting it in as a synthesizer.” On the chorus to “One Hundred Ways,” Sanborn’s sax is doubled with a flute sound played by Don Grolnick on a Yamaha DX7. Session ace Grolnick joins Bullock, bassist Miller, and drummer Buddy Williams in the Samborn band, one that has been together playing live for nearly five years. “It wasn’t really hard to choose a band for the record,” laughs Miller. “And that’s one of the reasons David wanted to record it, because the band has been so well-received live. I think after this album he wants to try to go into some new music, so he figured a nice cap for this portion of his musical career would be to record the stuff live and put it out.”
There was no percussionist at the original session, but Ralph MacDonald and Crusher Bennett both appear on the album. Miller made the decision to add the triangles, temple blocks and shakers on “Straight To The Heart” at the last minute. “We were getting ready to mix the tune, and I just kept hearing those high-pitched woodblocks and things that a percussionist does that would reallymake it. I had to decide whether to keep the aesthetics of the live situation or add it. Right before we mixed I called Crusher Bennett and asked him to come down. He said, ‘When?’ I said, ‘Come down now. We’re mixing in five minutes.’ So he did it. I don’t think it takes away from the live performance, especially David’s performance. I think it just adds.”
Miller gets his share of solo space on the record, and makes good use of it. On the intro to “Run For Cover” he starts in a low, wistful tone, then breaks so dramatically into a popping, crackling part that it sounds like an overdub or an edit. Miller says it happened that way live. “My jazz bass has a bunch of different sounds, and the intro sound is the one you get when you have mostly the back pickup on. So I did the front half with the back pickup, and then in the middle of it I just put both pickups full on and played with my thumb. The combination of the pickups going all the way on, me switching from finger picking to thumb playing, plus the echo that I took off the bass in the mix when the thumb part came in–it makes it sound really drastic.” Miller also made use of a delay effect in mixing Grolnick’s harp-like synthesizer part on the song. With all his tinkering, Miller maintains that the sound of the record is very close to what the people at S.I.R. heard. “The only thing people will notice is that there’s a little bit more sparkle about it, mainly because of the echos that weren’t presently when you heard it live. The echo does add a little gleam to it.
“It’s a different way to make a life record,” Miller continues. “When most people make a live record, it’s just totally live, and the ambience is what it was when they did it. But since we had the opportunity to change the ambiences, I decided to use it.”
The 25-year-old producer feels he earned his ducats on the gig deciding which tunes and which versions represented the Grammy-winning saxman the best. “The roughest part of doing a live album is sorting through the performances,” he says, “especially if you’ve done three full concerts. Just to sit and listen to all the tapes–there were 12 or 13 tunes that we had to listen to three takes of each. That was the hardest thing, weeding through and finding which contained the essense of Sanborn’s performance the most.”
Miller calls the soulful Sanborn a “reactionary player.” “He’s good at just reacting to his environment. Basically we recorded the band and David, but it turned out to be a more elaborate thing than that. I don’t even know if the few things we did (overdubs) allow the album to still qualify as a live album. But I know that David’s performance is live, and that’s what we’re talking about. That’s what people buy his records to get–a live performance from him and the band–and that’s what it was.