AURAL ROBERT feature column by Robert Baird
Stereophile, April 2001
are often lost in the routinely harried process of making records. Although
a few like Tom Dowd and Rudy Van Gelder have achieved some measure of
fame, most labor over consoles in the shadow of the more visible (and
better paid) producer.
times, though, the line between engineer and producer blurs. That's the
case with Jim Anderson, an unassuming but increasingly preeminent jazz
engineer who is responsible for more than 50 sessions by such artists
as Joe Henderson, Gonzalo Rubalcaba, Terence Blanchard, and J J. Johnson.
In the past few years, he has developed a particularly close relationship
with singer-pianist Patricia Barber, having produced her last four albums
for Premonition Records (distributed by Blue Note including the newly
released Nightclub 90749).
are primarily defined by their "sound," and Anderson is no exception.
"I can't make a sound like anybody else. I can only make a sound
like me," he says over coffee one morning. "I can't make a Rudy
[Van Gelder] sound. I can imitate him, but it's still going to sound like
I did it. I like a very clean, simple sound, but at the same time a very
direct one. The way I hear a mix when I'm working on it, I try to fsten
to every element of the band, concentrate on it specifically to the exclusion
of everything else. If something leaps out and is constantly taking your
attention, it's not a balanced recording."
is also a good description of Anderson's personality. Not surprisingly,
he plays well with others, managing to get along with such difficult personalities
as Cuban expatriate pianist Gonzalo Rubalcaba, for whom he has engineered
Diz, The Blessing, and Inner Voyage, and Barber, whose audiophile-respected
catalog Anderson refers to as "my resume."
band is really a quartet, not a trio, because Jim is the fourth member
of the group," Barber says from her home in Chicago. "He makes
me feel so at ease, so calm." She recounts with a laugh how, during
her first sessions with Anderson, for Cafe Blue (Premonition/Blue Note
5 21810 2), she returned from lunch to find that he had mixed the entire
album while she was gone. This kind of trust continues to be the basis
of their creative partnership. "He's very efficient," Barber
says. "He makes my life so much easier."
obviously appreciates the fact that Barber has faith in him. "She
has total veto power," he says, "but for a lot of people, the
process [of recording and mixing is downright boring and uninteresting.
To me, it's the most fascinating part of the whole thing. I can sit there
forever and keep plugging away.
just comes back for the results, which allows me to be a little less self-conscious
about what rm doing. Once a player fixates on something, they never get
it out of their brain. That little piece that they've just played over
and over and over-when it comes by, they obsess on it, and that's all
they hear. They won't hear the flow or the phrasing. [For them] it's often
like hot dogs and sausage. You don't want to see how [records are made.
It comes under the heading of `What you don't know won't hurt you."'
strong suit Barber was quick to mention was the way Anderson supports
her vocals. "I love the sound of my voice in the recordings I've
done with Jim. Even if I have a weak voice, if it's worn from a gig, the
way he feeds my voice to me while we're recording allows my voice to actually
get stronger as the session goes on. It makes me so confident that, unless
I have absolute laryngitis, I can sing."
is not a fan of using compressors while recording, although vocals are
an occasional exception. "It just distracts my musical listening.
But there are times when you need something to sit inside a mix. With
some singers you have to [use compression]you have to squash it down.
With Patricia, I don't use a compressor, I hand-ride it: I listen to it
and shape the line by hand."
to record vocals is one of the tricks Anderson picked up while working
in his first love: radio. As a student at Pittsburgh's Duquesne University,
he eventually took charge of the school's recording studio while also
working as an engineer at its radio station, WDUQ.
again, of radio, I tend to be very gingerly about the amount of EQ and
compression I use. The idea is not to paint yourself into a corner. You
try to get the right mike in the right place. I try to approach things
with the right kind of mix, the right kind of microphone, as opposed to
using a lot of compression and EQ; this, to me, has a lot more punch and
all spice. A little too much spice and it's never going to work. If there's
not enough spice, it doesn't work either. You've got to find the right
One recipe Anderson is excited about is the impending surround-sound revolution.
The 5.1-channel mixes he's fashioned from Barber's Nightclub sessions,
though as yet unreleased, have him enthused about the possibilities of
the new medium.