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Les Brockmann Music Engineering . Writing ON MUSIC & ENGINEERINGOn Music & Engineering

Thursday, June 22, 2006


One of the things I love best about my job is getting to work with terrific professional musicians of all sorts. They have dedicated their whole lives to becoming skilled players or singers, and the chance to be there when they skillfully make the notes on the page, or in their head, come to life, is something I wouldn't trade for anything.

I especially get a charge out of working with good drummers, for a number of reasons: there's nothing like an exciting drum part to make a piece of music, whether it's rock, jazz, Broadway, or whatever, come to life. Also, it presents a fun challenge for me as an engineer — getting a good drum sound involves a number of microphones carefully placed, preferably patched through a good vintage console or outboard preamps, and some judicious EQ and balancing. Not to mention, taking the best possible advantage of the acoustic surroundings, good sounding instruments and of course a good player, all with the goal of making this collection of various drums and cymbals all sound like one big exciting instrument that blends with other members of the band and propels the music forward.

A few favorite drummers I have had the privilege of working with:

Bernie Dresel is a terrific LA session drummer who is getting a lot of well-deserved recognition throughout the city and the whole world. I have had the privilege of working with him with show-music producer Nelson Kole, as well as others, and also with him as an album producer with a couple of artists, cabaret singer Lulu LaFever, and the mysterious French chanteuse Colombe.

Bernie is a specialist at big-band music, and I am always knocked out by his amazing music reading ability. On rhythm tracking dates, Nelson Kole always has complex detailed charts with sudden style changes, set-up hits for horn licks that will be overdubbed in the future, and varying click tempos. Bernie invariably nails it on the first or second pass and makes it sound exciting. I often am told "Let's take one more pass with the other players, but keep the drum tracks".

If you want to hear more of Bernie, check out the several albums of Gordon Goodwin's amazing Big Phat Band, or anything by Brian Setzer from the last ten years or so.

Jim Keltner is, of course, famous worldwide and has played on thousands of albums going back as far as (it's rumored) the Beatles. I was fortunate to record him a couple of times when I was working on the scores for Northern Exposure. The composer on that show, David Schwartz, had the very cool notion of hiring musicians who wouldn't normally have considered working on a TV score; besides Keltner, I remember the fun of working with ace Little Feat pianist Billy Payne, for one.

Keltner played on our sessions for the recording of the "extended album version" of the Northern Exposure main title (the original TV theme was done with a drum machine). Of course the live drums gave it an additional exciting spark, and who could have done it better?!

When Keltner is playing a groove, he gets a big sort of loping feel; I've heard it described as "a steam locomotive at full throttle with the wheels about to come off". A terrific cut to hear an example of that on is "She Runs Hot" from the 1992 album "Little Village".

Peter Erskine — I got to record him on a couple of film scores by composer Dana Kaproff, including This Gun For Hire, in which his jazzy improvising helped underscore the tension in chase scenes through New Orleans' French Quarter cemeteries.

I have loved hearing his playing on jazz albums by Weather Report, Steps Ahead, and many others. I first met him when I was in high school, at a jazz camp in Missouri, and he was the brand new drummer for Stan Kenton's big band; he's had a terrific career ever since.

Holy Grail — Some drummers I would like a chance to work with:

Abraham Labouriel Jr., son of the wonderful LA bassist Abraham Labouriel. This young man is setting the world on fire with recent tours with Paul McCartney and Sting.

Zachary Alford — He's an east-coast cat; I heard him a decade ago on Saturday Night Live with the B-52s, and I thought he took that somewhat goofy party band and absolutely lit it on fire. A few months later he was on again, this time with Bruce Springsteen, and sounded great with his band as well.

Steve Gadd — Way back when I was a school kid I always saw his name in the credits of all my favorite albums, Steely Dan, Chick Corea, Paul Simon. I recently saw him on PBS with Eric Clapton and he still sounds good.

Manu Kache — He is of French and African origin. Check out his exciting and propulsive sound on albums by Sting, Tears for Fears, others; he also has a recent jazz album on ECM.

— There's tons more; if I forgot to mention you, don't worry, bring your sticks!

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