DAW – Digital Performer 11; Monitors – Event 20/20BAS; Preamps – Manley Force and Universal Audio 4-710d; Microphones – Slate Digital VMS ML-1 with the FG-47 plugin (vocals), Electro-Voice RE20 (kick, sax and trombone), Shure SM57 (snare), Neumann KM 84 (x2) (overheads), sE Electronics sE8 (hi-hat), Sennheiser MD-421 (toms), Neumann U 87 (room and trombones); sE Electronics Voodoo VR2 (trumpets); Millennia TD-1 DI (direct bass); Piano – Synthogy Ivory German Grand VSTi; Plugins – Slate Digital, Waves, UAD and MOTU; Mastered with iZotope Ozone 10.
“Table For One” is a mid-tempo swing tune featuring a male vocalist backed by the sound of a big band. David Kessner and Essaw Sawyer wrote the song. It was recorded, mixed and produced by David Kessner at David’s home studio in Novato, CA.
The musicians were Ned Rifken (vocals), Jimmy Hobson (drums), Steve Evans (bass) Mike Rinta (trombones and horn arrangement), Rob Zuckerman (alto, tenor and baritone saxophones), Niel Levonius (trumpets) and David Kessner (piano).
Reviewed By Dave Martin
“Table For One” reminds me of songs from the late 50s and early 60s (pre-rock era) when popular songs usually had an orchestra supporting the singer.
Vocalist Ned Rifken’s performance has a relaxed feel that suits the lyrics very well. The horn arrangement, which was written by trombonist Mike Rinta, makes me think of the Nelson Riddle charts from “The Nat King Cole Show.” Yet the recording sounds fresh, not like something from almost 70 years ago.
I’m a fan of big band music; I currently play double bass with a big band, and I’ve recorded a number of big bands throughout the years. Because I’m a fan of this sort of thing, I really like “Table For One.” It has the vibe of popular music from the 1950s and features a singer who understands how to sing songs of that era. The arranger also understands the craft of writing good horn charts.
A few things about this recording sound a bit anachronistic to me, though I’m betting that a lot of it has to do with the limitations of the room where the track was recorded. Focusing on the horns, three horn players were overdubbed to create the sound of the big band. This is not too unusual, since in addition to the cost of hiring 13 great horn players (assuming that the chart was written with the standard configuration of 4 trumpets, 4 trombones and 5 saxes) putting all of those people together requires more space (and more sets of headphones) than most home studios have available.
However, when you record four trumpet parts using the same trumpet player, the same microphone, the same mic placement and likely the same trumpet, you’ll end up with four parts that sound like one person has played them. The articulation and tone will be close to identical, even though the notes differ.
The result, at least to my ears, was that there was something about the horns that didn’t sound as much like a real horn section as it could—it sounds better than using virtual instruments or MIDI, but not the natural sound of a group of humans making music at the same time. Having said that, the ambiance and playing of the horns were lovely and the sax solo made me smile.
There are a couple of approaches that can mitigate the ‘too similar’ sound of each section. The easiest is to make changes to the mic placement with each pass. For example, if trumpet one was played directly into the mic from a foot away, do the second pass with the trumpet pointed 30 degrees away from the mic or move the mic back another foot. The first lets the off-axis response of the mic change the tone, while the second allows a lessened proximity effect to make the change. Imagine four trumpets playing into one mic at the same time—each one is in a different position in relation to the mic. Use that to your advantage. A second approach would be to have the trumpet player bring a number of different trumpets and play a different horn for each part.
I was pleasantly surprised by the use of an RE20 for the saxes—they sound great. Given the three microphones used for horns, I would typically have used a large diaphragm condenser like the U 87 on the saxes, ribbons on the trumpets (2 or 3 feet away from the bell of the instrument), and the RE20 on trombones. But that sort of thing is an engineer’s choice, and other than the fact that I would have liked to have heard more high-end from the trumpets, it was a workable choice.
It appears that Mr. Kessner has a nice mic collection in his home studio, and he has put them to good use. I basically set up the same mics on drums that he used—MD 421 mics on toms, an SM57, KM 84 on overheads and an RE20 on the kick. However, I would likely bring the toms and snare mics down in the mix and let the overheads handle about 75% of the toms and snare sounds. The drum sound for a big band record isn’t necessarily the drum sound that works great for a rock, Americana or a country record.
“Table For One” is a playful song with a fine singer, talented musicians and a great chart. The song is a style of music that is not recorded nearly as much these days as I wish it would be. Though I’ve shared some thoughts about alternative approaches that might be useful to the artist on future projects, that doesn’t mean that I don’t like this recording—I do. My job is to give advice based on my experience and I understand that the artist’s job isn’t to take my advice. At the end of the day, it’s not my record—it’s theirs.