In the Studio With Yuko Kishimoto, Part II

Connor Meehan, Lee Russo, John Menegon and Yuko-Kishimoto
Connor Meehan, Lee Russo, John Menegon and Yuko Kishimoto

This is the second half of Andrzej Pilarczyk’s studio visit with pianist Yuko Kishimoto as she recorded her debut album, “Songbook,” at Cotton Hill Studios in Albany last month. Read Part I here.

As the afternoon moves forward Japanese native and long time Nippertown resident Yuko Kishimoto seems more at ease with her piano playing and the recording process in the studio. But, as she mentions to producer Keith Pray and engineer Ace Parkhurst after a playback of a take, “The composition sounds a little different than what I intended when I wrote it.” More to herself than to anyone in particular, Kishimoto adds, “I keep thinking I should have changed something in there now that I hear it performed. I heard it in my mind a little bit differently…”

Pray knows this second-guessing well. All musicians, artists, writers and creative people go through that process when they’re putting their work together for public display. It doesn’t matter whether it’s a CD recording, an art exhibition or a book. Doubt plagues almost every creative spirit when they’re on the road to completing a project for public consumption.

Playback Listening
Playback Listening

The agreement made that day between all concerned at Cotton Hill Studios was that they’d run one after another through all 10 of the tunes, recording at least two takes each, unless a third is warranted. The final decisions are to be made later, and if necessary, the tunes can be re-recorded the second day of the two-day session.

Tunes with catchy titles like, “Bow Wow Chow Mein,” “It’s a Mystery” and “Victoria” (the latter named and dedicated to the former manager of Justin’s in Albany, who gave Kishimoto her first Nippertown showcase gig and has championed her music ever since) morph one into another. The solos are more in the pocket, and the ensemble’s playing become more relaxed as they get comfortable with the composition’s scores and the process. Any anxiety that might have been felt earlier in the day at the beginning of the recording session is now a distant memory.

After one particular take, producer Pray presses the intercom button and interrupts the conversation behind the glass to speak to saxman Lee Russo. “Lee, you were a little sharp on that one. Let’s do another take.” All nod in agreement, and the tune is played again. Everyone seems pleased.

Later in the day on another tune, drummer Connor Meehan asks with an apologetic grimace, “Sorry about that, but I not really happy with my drum solo on that one. Can we do it again?” No problem, everybody in the combo shares Kishimoto’s concern that the album and the playing has got to be the very best it can be. And judging by the results so far, it will be.

John Menegon and Lee Russo
John Menegon and Lee Russo

Bassist John Menegon has been in dozens of studios laying down tracks, and he likes the approach of Kishimoto and Pray. “I like that we’re rolling along, doing one take after another. It keeps the freshness going, and you don’t get bogged down on one take or another.”

Because of the changes inherent in the composition, the most difficult piece for the group to tackle is Kishimoto’s tour-de-force “Elements,” initially written for Keith Pray’s Big Soul Ensemble, but now scaled down from an 18-piece band arrangement to a quartet.

Kishimoto and saxophonist Russo have performed together often around the area, playing quartet dates led by either one of them. However, Menegon and Meehan are both fairly new to playing with Kishimoto. So why choose these particular musicians?

Yuko Kishimoto - Session Leader
Yuko Kishimoto - Session Leader

“Not long ago, I did a few gigs downstate, and on one of them, I got to play with John Menegon,” says Kishimoto. “I brought John in because there were some textures and colors to his bass playing that I heard that night that I really liked. I felt that he would add something different to this recording, which was what I wanted.

“What I liked about Connor Meehan’s playing when we played together was the feeling he brings into his playing. He doesn’t draw attention to himself, and he really is a great ensemble musician.

“I love playing with Lee Russo. He uses a wide range of dynamics on his sax and is such a sensitive and intuitive musician. I saw him on this session from the very beginning, when the idea for it was coming together,” says a smiling Kishimoto.

“Elements” takes off and rolls through its complex tempos and turn-on-a-dime chord changes. After the first take and a discussion between Kishimoto and her bandmates, the tapes roll again and a second take is laid down to everyone’s satisfaction. In the control booth, a grinning Pray nods his approval and clicks on the intercom to invite everybody in to listen to the playback.

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 tonight (Wednesday, August 31). Admission is FREE.

Story and photographs by Andrzej Pilarczyk
Additional photographs of the session by Andrzej Pilarczyk

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