The Harvard Art Museums (located on the campus of Harvard University in Cambridge, MA.) recently re-opened after a multi-year renovation that consolidated Harvard’s three art museums under one beautiful sky lit roof. (Tip: visitors who are Massachusetts residents can enter the museum for free on Saturday mornings. For more information, see www.harvardartmuseums.org).
On the first floor of the new museum building is Room #1610, a quiet and meditative space dedicated to the exhibit of ancient Buddhist sculptures. The space is designed with light wood floors and floor to ceiling windows that allow for the flow of natural light onto every surface, including all of the sandstone sculptures. One such beautiful sculpture is a sculpture of Buddha from the province of Shanxi in China, dating from the Tang Dynasty in the early 8th Century:
This sculpture is beautifully carved with intricate details: delicate lines of Buddha’s hair and flowing gown; finely sculpted lines of eyebrows and eyelids that seem to curl upwards in the sandstone. The natural light that pours into the exhibit room penetrates these details as if they are lit from within. Looking very close at this particular masterpiece, one sees that the center of Buddha’s eyes are not focused straight ahead, but rather are locked upon an unseen target located somewhere above and away. The fall of light from the exhibit hall reveals this small detail perfectly and illuminates the imposing nobility of this sculpture, as well as its mystery in Buddha’s glance above and beyond.
There is an audiophile quality record label that captures this same kind of magic (in music making) as that captured in the Harvard Art Museum’s Buddhist Sculpture gallery where natural light and ancient stone collide into something beautiful and transfixing. This is Soundkeeper Recordings, founded by recording and production guru Barry Diament.
Soundkeeper is that special record label where every performance is captured with a feeling of vitality and natural energy; every recording feels as if it is lit from within with a natural illumination that shines into every nook and cranny of the music to reveal its every texture, detail and the artistry of the musicians involved. To obtain these spectacular sonic results, Diament uses a simple two-mic stereo array (consisting of a matched pair of Earthworks QTC-1 microphones separated by an absorbent panel of his own design) and records every performance live in real time (as Diament coins it, “without a net”). There are no overdubs, mixing, processing or compression of any kind, and this leaves it to the musicians to determine the balances and dynamics of the performance. Once you hear a Soundkeeper recording on a revealing audio system, you will experience what mentor Harry Pearson meant by capturing a slice of the “absolute sound.”
Soundkeeper has produced a number of eclectic and lyrical releases. One such highlight is their 2010 recording of Marcus Schwartz and Lakou Brooklyn on “Equinox,” [Soundkeeper SR 1002] where Haitian music meets the shores of New York City with panache and joy.
The assembled band is a marvelous concoction blending Haitian instruments, piercing trumpet, resolute bass and nimble electric guitar into a brilliant stew of colorful blocks of shifting musical material. Here, sharp-splintered, cross accents of brass and percussion blend naturally with expressive harmonies to create a surging, propulsive musical adventure. Take a listen to “Seremoni Tiga,” and hear how Jean Craze’s smoky trumpet lurches and falls next to Paul Beaudry’s strokes of acoustic bass amongst radiant sparks of Markus Schwartz’s bells. The slow procession takes off down the street into a joyful, buoyant march propelled by resonant drums and staccato electric guitar swipes from guitarist Monvelyno Alexis. All of this sparkling drama is captured by Diament’s brilliant recording so that every blow of conch shell; every trumpet attack and every Haitian Rada drum is heard limpid, natural and dynamic. Like the natural light that baths those ancient Buddhist sculptures at Harvard, Diament’s production lends a glory of natural lightness and air to expose every detail of this live musical performance with crackle and great vitality.
Equally astounding is Soundkeeper’s exploration of Americana in the pop styles mined in the urbane and bright-hued music of singer, songwriter and gifted musician Art Halperin, and his band Work of Art.
Halperin, (who was the last artist signed by the great John Hammond), is a treasure to behold: his gift for grabbing a pop curve is infinite and his best songs will remain in your head long after their last refrain. The quality of Halperin’s voice, his musical ideas, his lyrical keys and buoyant musical flow remind of the great George Harrison’s own musings on life and love. Just take a listen to “I’m Not Sure” or the title cut from Halperin and Work of Art’s new 2014 recording, Winds of Change [Soundkeeper Records, SR1005) and relish all of the great capacious breeze in Halperin’s pop hooks and the glorious sound of Work of Art swinging behind him.
Here is pop surge at its best: expressive harmonies ebb and flow around acoustic finery as Halperin, Al Maddy, Jon Rosenblatt and Sue Williams stir the magic with their superb guitar and acoustic bass thumps and artistry. “My Love For You” starts out with finger snaps in the quiet leading to a big, airy blast of acoustic attack, capped by Williams’ bubbly bass solo. The spirit of Harrison beckons with “September Nights” sparkling on nylon strings plucked and immersive in a swirling ballad, while Halperin and his compatriots bust out on “Nobody Knows” and “Singing It For You” with exuberant, bluesy gusto. A few cuts (“Together” or “Feeling of Hope”) miss the mark for this author’s taste, usually when things get slower and sugary without the instrumental pizzazz of the effusive Halperin and his band at their best. But when they are burning, there is no stopping the great musical action of these virtuoso musicians. Catch the nimble ukelele twists; the unkempt beauty of Rosenblatt’s pedal steel (on the rollicking “On My Way To You”) and Patrick Conlon’s steady, humming engine of percussion through out (watch out for his resonant drum strikes that will knock you off your chair on the last cut!). Halperin’s vocals are a delight – so winsome and sweet – pushing the propulsion (like on the swirling “Going Vegan”) forward with great pacing and metric groove.
Winds of Change was recorded by Diament at a church in Sparkill, New York and the retrieval of every ambient clue of this marvelous space is on display on this stellar recording. This is an audiophile gem that truly is a masterpiece of recording and production skill. There is no one like Diament and his ability to light up a musical performance to joyful, transfixing results.
Find all Soundkeeper recordings at their website: www.soundkeeperrecordings.com available on CD; slow burned CD-R or other High Resolution formats.