In the Studio With Michael Benedict, Part I

In the studio with Michael Benedict

It’s a very cold, late January Sunday. A blanket of new snow glistens from the rays of the afternoon sun while dozens of footprints lead to and from the front door of the Cotton Hill Studios.

Located in an industrial park off Central Avenue in Albany, the two-story building appears small, dwarfed by the much larger warehouses and other business structures surrounding it.

Once inside the building – past the reception area and down the hallway where the break-room is off to one side – there is a hallway with two doors almost facing each other. The door on the left – with a sliver of vertical glass – opens into the recording performance space filled with microphones, stands, instruments, dividers and a multitude of cables running every which way across the floor. The one on the right leads into the heart of the recording studio, the console room where recording engineer Ace Parkhurst is hunched over a huge control board tweaking hundreds of buttons and knobs – arranged in row after row.

Sitting in a swivel chair next to Parkhurst and jotting notes down on a pad of paper is record producer Tom Bellino, who runs the independent, Athens-based Planet Arts record label. Planet Arts won a Grammy Award for a recent release by the Vanguard Jazz Orchestra, and the label will soon be releasing the debut album by Michael Benedict’s Bopitude, the session that’s about to unfold.

Ace Parkhurst and Tom Bellino
Ace Parkhurst and Tom Bellino

Benedict and his bandmates are busy setting up gear and joking among themselves in the other room. If there had been any initial tension or jitters between the musicians about tackling the compositions, they disappeared the during the first recording session the previous day, which by all accounts was a roaring success.

Now on the second day of recording, everybody is more than comfortable playing with each other.

Benedict sits down at the traps, making some last-minute adjustments to his drum kit. Although better known as the area’s premier vibraphonist, Benedict is playing the skins – his first love and primary instrument – and the vibes were left at home.

Michael Benedict
Michael Benedict

To Benedict’s left past a half-wall partition, a smiling Mike Lawrence stands plucking his upright acoustic bass. Further up, towards the sound room’s wide window into the control booth, a serious looking Bruce Barth sits at the grand piano concentrating intently on exercising his fingers on the instrument’s keys.

Mike Lawrence and Bruce Barth
Mike Lawrence and Bruce Barth

Lawrence is one of the most in-demand regional bassists who plays with pianist Yuko Kishimoto and trumpeter Steve Lambert, among others. Barth is a pianist’s pianist, leading his own bands. No stranger to the area. Last fall, he fronted a trio in a double-bill with saxophonist JD Allen at A Place For Jazz in Schenectady.

Across from Lawrence and Barth on the other side of the room, trumpeter Chris Pasin and tenor saxophonist Brian Patneaude stand side-by-side behind two upright panels with small windows. Running practice scales on their instruments they share jovial comments between note clusters.

Chris Pasin and Brian Patneaude
Chris Pasin and Brian Patneaude

Pasin is a trumpet master and a long-time veteran of the national jazz scene, leading recording sessions in the 1980s with such heavyweights as Dannie Richmond, Mingus’ long-time drummer. He also recently performed in the region with another Planet Arts recording artist, trombonist Luis Bonilla. Patneaude is one of the guiding lights on the regional jazz scene, recording CDs under his own name, as well as lending his talents to such bands as Doc Scanlon’s Rhythm Boys and Alex Torres & His Latin Orchestra. He also maintains, one of the region’s finest websites devoted to jazz.

The dissonant sounds created by the collective’s individual warm-up rituals fill the closed studio room until Parkhurst’s voice cust through the abstract cacophony over the intercom asking, “Michael, is everyone ready to do a take of ‘Whistle Stop’?”

Story and photographs by Andrzej Pilarczyk

RELATED STORY: In the Studio With Michael Benedict, Part II

Michael Benedict & Bopitude’s CD of this recording session is scheduled to be released late in the spring on the Planet Arts label. Meanwhile, Michael Benedict & Bopitude step into the spotlight at Justin’s in Albany at 9:30pm on Saturday. The line-up for the evening will feature drummer/bandleader Michael Benedict, trumpeter Chris Pasin, saxophonist Lee Russo, pianist Yuko Kishimoto and bassist Lou Smaldone.

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