Listening to a record should give you the impression, as if you would be part of the performance, right? A very basic idea – not too easy to achieve.
The history of recording technology and sound design points out many different solutions to accomplish the ‚perfect recording‘ – most of them, I have to admit, are within the area of recordings of classical music, and some of those many years back.
Jazz and improvised music is a special case. Being mainly played in small clubs during the days, when jazz became broadly popular, producers chose recording techniques, that differed from the more realistic approach, engineers had used for classical music these days, to create a more intimate soundscape. During the sixties and seventies pop producers where experimenting with stereo, overdubs, sound-fx, and the like – and studios familiar with the new discoveries became the main references also for the jazz scene. The reasons may have been a certain interest in new ways of recording music, but also availability, convenience, and – expenses.
Nowadays jazz productions seem to have been stuck to certain habits: rent a (not too expensive) studio, let the engineer do his off-the-rack work, play your stuff within a limited time, save on editing, mix on a budget, and you’re done. The result is very often a record, that just doesn’t sound good – neither soundwise, nor musically.
In my opinion, a band has to be recorded in a natural way, that is: good players, good room, only a few microphones in the right position, and knowledge about the musical content. A good jazz record features: dynamics, depth, punch, impact.
On the other hand, this philosophy seems to be a bit anachronistic: We hire the best musicians we can find/pay, set up expensive recording gear in a pricey studio, spend days for editing, mixing, and mastering, recruit photographers and graphic artists, pay for the best record plant to deliver the finest production we can, and – they listen to that on their mp3-players with cheesy earplugs inside a noisy streetcar.
Jazz musicians do it anyway, right?