We have been recording our improv sessions for years, and we have edited down the better efforts to CDs. Each CD represents just one day's gathering, a snapshot of our creative output captured to one disc. Most of the Big Jerks sessions go like this: we gather at Karl's Abalone Lounge Studio and we set up our gear, small amps and the PA system. We arrange the Roland digital recorder with 2 Pressure Zone Mics and a direct PA line. We discuss the events of the day, current events or personal stories to get a feel for possible jams.
When we're all loose and caught up, we start right in to jamming, but with no rehearsal. We might pick a key, and sometimes a second chord and (rarely) a bridge idea. We're after spontanaiety in music and vocals, and we usually morph the chords as we play. You can hear where we struggle to find our footing, and though it's embarrassing, it's an honest recording of our improvisations.
Some days are musically dark and full of tension, some are bright and jazzy, many are a combination (isn't life like that?). When you hear these discs, you can climb into our heads, so to speak. We try to make some of these jams sound like actual songs, with repeating B sections (bridges) and hooks. Others are free form, with no structure at all. Some change keys and ideas several times, a journey. A few are worked out progressions with rough parts fleshed out quickly. All are played just as you hear them, warts and all. We have made some edits to speed up some jams and eliminate some glitches, but we always try to keep improv jams intact.
We normally record about two and a half hours of music in a day, and later whittle it down to a single disc of approx 70 minutes. To date, we have over 100 CDs available! The fidelity varies, on some discs the vocals are funky because we sang through a six watt Pignose amp. Since the new century started, we patch into a real PA for better vocals. Older recordings used only two Pressure Zone Microphones (PZMs), purchased at Radio Shack, recording into my trusty little Roland VS880-VX digital recorder. We are currently using Karl's Roland, a 24 track big brother version VS ( Virtual Studio).
This decidedly low-tech approach offers a flat, honest record of the music in the room, a musician's ear-reference. No close-mic'd drums or amps, just room volume. We keep a handle on our individual relative room volume, because the PZMs don't lie. Like the clean jazz recordings of years ago, our deceptively simple recording setup affords a clean, intimate, fly-on-the-wall experience to the listener.
Some older recordings done at Kashmir utilized Karl's extensive mic selection and went through his big Music Focus console, and the improvement in the final recording is self evident. These we did only when we had access to a Music Focus recording engineer to monitor the board. Walter's Rotting is all recorded this way.
I've been asked by several people: do you guys have fun recording these events? Lordy, YES! We joke and talk and double over in stifled laughter at times. We love and respect each other as friends and musicians. We confess deep personal secrets in service to the music. We communicate on a high level, far above mere speech. We hypnotize ourselves in music. It is bliss. To the extent that our CDs convey this magic, they fulfill their true purpose.
A note here: improv rock is not for everyone. Unlike 3 minute pop songs, our music does not reveal itself quickly. Listening to Big Jerks in a hurry is not advisable. We have found that fans of many styles respond to our stuff, we have jazz, alt rock, folk, hiphop, metal and fusion fans in our audience and it makes us proud.
thanks, Brian Sisson