Van Gelder's Mud Pit

JOv2

Well-Known Member
Thread Starter
267-FA195-1391-449-E-A6-BA-4512-CECFB41-A-1-201-a.jpg


Back in the late '80s, when Blue Note, OJC (notably Prestige), and impulse! were initiating the first US wave of CD reissues, a whole new generation of music connoisseurs were simultaneously becoming spellbound by jazz of the 1955-70 period (which after a good 15 years of fusion, was a welcomed return to form). The record store at which I worked was in a small college town and these reissues were spearheading the CD boom and were immediate treasures for those of us discovering the likes of Blue Mitchell and Hank Mobley for the first time.

One thing that was a bit of a sore spot for a few of us, however, was why the CDs — particularly the Blue Notes — typically exhibited a lumbersome, muddy double bass sound and a cotton-soft piano sound.

One day, one of the regulars came by the store and as we were chatting about these exciting Blue Note CDs he volunteered that he once had an opportunity to observe a Van Gelder session… He explained that the reason for the clumsy bass sound was that Van Gelder wrapped the bass mic in plastic and jammed it into the bridge of the double bass. The visual seemed to explain the cavernous bass sonics wherein the bass is more "felt" (from the vibrations within the instrument) and less "heard" (radiating away from the instrument). Van Gelder’s idea seemed sonically plausible — and must have sounded good on the studio speakers to Creed, Al Lion, and Bob Thiele all of whom produced a myriad of sessions during the era. In any event, years later when a coffee table book of Francis Wolff photographs was issued, sure enough included was a photo of Paul Chamber’s bass with a mic wrapped in some sort of material and jammed into the bridge.
 

Bobberman

Well-Known Member
267-FA195-1391-449-E-A6-BA-4512-CECFB41-A-1-201-a.jpg


Back in the late '80s, when Blue Note, OJC (notably Prestige), and impulse! were initiating the first US wave of CD reissues, a whole new generation of music connoisseurs were simultaneously becoming spellbound by jazz of the 1955-70 period (which after a good 15 years of fusion, was a welcomed return to form). The record store at which I worked was in a small college town and these reissues were spearheading the CD boom and were immediate treasures for those of us discovering the likes of Blue Mitchell and Hank Mobley for the first time.

One thing that was a bit of a sore spot for a few of us, however, was why the CDs — particularly the Blue Notes — typically exhibited a lumbersome, muddy double bass sound and a cotton-soft piano sound.

One day, one of the regulars came by the store and as we were chatting about these exciting Blue Note CDs he volunteered that he once had an opportunity to observe a Van Gelder session… He explained that the reason for the clumsy bass sound was that Van Gelder wrapped the bass mic in plastic and jammed it into the bridge of the double bass. The visual seemed to explain the cavernous bass sonics wherein the bass is more "felt" (from the vibrations within the instrument) and less "heard" (radiating away from the instrument). Van Gelder’s idea seemed sonically plausible — and must have sounded good on the studio speakers to Creed, Al Lion, and Bob Thiele all of whom produced a myriad of sessions during the era. In any event, years later when a coffee table book of Francis Wolff photographs was issued, sure enough included was a photo of Paul Chamber’s bass with a mic wrapped in some sort of material and jammed into the bridge.
That would explain it and I'm not surprised
 

Rudy

¡Que siga la fiesta!
Staff member
Site Admin
That actually looks like a small rug wrapped up in there! That certainly wouldn't be my preferred way to present a double bass either--hearing the pluck of the string, the wood resonating, etc., is all part of the sound that I like. Van Gelder's method there only produces the fundamental.

I agree on the piano sound--I just mentioned this in the CTi thread, how Horace Silver's Song for my Father suffers from that. Yet the horns are more forward in the mix. (And the pitch wavering can be heard in a few spots, especially where Silver starts his irst solo.)


(If the bass line sounds familiar, Steely Dan used this for "Rikki Don't Lose That Number.")
 

JOv2

Well-Known Member
Thread Starter
That actually looks like a small rug wrapped up in there! That certainly wouldn't be my preferred way to present a double bass either--hearing the pluck of the string, the wood resonating, etc., is all part of the sound that I like. Van Gelder's method there only produces the fundamental.

I agree on the piano sound--I just mentioned this in the CTi thread, how Horace Silver's Song for my Father suffers from that. Yet the horns are more forward in the mix. (And the pitch wavering can be heard in a few spots, especially where Silver starts his irst solo.)


(If the bass line sounds familiar, Steely Dan used this for "Rikki Don't Lose That Number.")
Indeed! I think because VanGelder was an alll-in-one outfit (engineering and mastering, and a de facto co-producer -- given everything he produced for A&M, Blue Note and impulse! shared similar sonics), was a jazz connoisseur, and was close to NYC, he probably offered the fleet rate to Creed, Al Lion and Bob Thiele -- who surely dominated his studio business until musicians began to take an increasing interest in the engineering of their records round about 1970 and the Van Gelder model was just not flexible enough for the next wave of jazz musicians.

Van Gelder, like all recording engineers, surely experimented as there are examples of fully defined bass and piano; but, by and large, he favoured a large, cavernous bass which produced a muddy, less defined tone -- and at the expense of missing the pop of the fingerboard, as Rudy keenly noted. I'm not sure how he obtained the piano sound that reduced the attack on the strings -- it's nearly as though the hammers were not directly striking the strings!

On the other hand, he did a pretty good job with the horns: the reverb seemed realistic and he seemed to have achieved a solid horn-to-mic distance that balanced the studio ambience with the added reverb.

(Actually, I knew of Song For My Father before Steely Dan -- though not Horace's recording: I was in a band and we were auditioning it in a fakebook when someone said Steely Dan ripped off the riff...")
 

JOv2

Well-Known Member
Thread Starter
Why VanGelder chose to not reproduce double bass like this remains befuddling. (Equally perplexing is why all the Blue Note, Verve, Prestige, impulse!, and CTi artists and producers accepted the sub-standard sound...)

Engineer: Bruce Botnik
Producer: Tommy Li Puma

 
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