It’s noon, and the hot July sun outside has the humidity on the rise. Inside the air-conditioned Cotton Hill Studios, pianist-arranger-composer Yuko Kishimoto is looking over the score of “All That’s Nice” with Keith Pray.
A monster alto-saxophonist, noted composer, bandleader and recording engineer himself, Pray is wearing a different hat today in the studio – he’s producing Yuko Kishimoto’s debut CD. “I like the fact that I can concentrate solely on the group’s sound and not have to worry about adjusting levels or microphone placements,” says Pray.
Those tasks, among others, have been left up to veteran sound engineer Ace Parkhurst, who is sitting at the massive soundboard and making some last minute adjustments while looking into the computer monitors.
In the other room, Conor Meehan tunes his drum heads, tapping on each one after every turn of the key. Meanwhile, Lee Russo loosens up by running through musical scales on his tenor saxophone. And cradling his upright bass, John Menegon intently looks over the score of the tune at hand.
An an of anticipation is all around her as Kishimoto counts off the tempo with the rhythm of her finger snapping. The order of solos has already been mapped out, and the composition takes flight. After establishing the melody line, Russo’s smooth sax solo begins to soar above Meehan’s steady, spot-on beats. Menegon’s mastery over the bass is evident as he nails down the rhythm, pumping out one juicy note after another.
Kishimoto’s fingers begin to skip around the grand piano as she takes her solo. The chords and running notes weave intricate lines in an array of dynamic contrasts and tonal colors.
Parkhurst clicks off the recording after the last harmonic note fades away and then swivels around in his chair to look at Pray’s reaction to the take.
Leaving her bandmates behind in the studio, Kishimoto flies into the control room and stands in the doorway wondering what she should do next.
It’s good that Pray is a musician himself and a veteran of countless studio sessions because he knows what a musician is feeling and knows how to calmly – with just a few words – put them at ease as he says, “Yuko, everybody knows the tunes. I think we should just keep it going and do a couple takes. After we’ve had time to listen to what we laid down, we can come back tomorrow and see what needs to be reworked.”
In the recording world, both Pray and Kishimoto know full well that extra studio time means money, and this production is on a limited budget. No worries, Pray’s “big ears” and musical experience have him following every note of the score, paying acute attention to every nuance within the composition’s intent.
Pianist Yuko Kishimoto and her quartet will celebrate the release of her debut CD, “Songbook,” with a performance at the First Reformed Church of Schenectady in Schenectady, at 7pm on Wednesday.
Admission is $10; children under 15 $5.
UPDATE: Kishimoto cancelled the release party on Tuesday afternoon, but power is back on on at the church and now so is the show. The concert will take place as planned at 7pm. And admission is now FREE.
Story and photographs by Andrzej Pilarczyk
Additional photographs of the session by Andrzej Pilarczyk
“In the Studio With Yuko Kishimoto” will continue with Part II tomorrow (Wednesday).