Revisiting London: Internationally acclaimed song stylist Lyn Stanley delivers a double-disc audiophile recording, part 2 of her Julie London tribute project
With her new release, sultry jazz singer Lyn Stanley follows up on her well-received 2018 album
London Calling—A Toast to Julie London
How does a musical artist define perfection? And what lengths will one go to in order to achieve it?
The answer to the first question may be in the ear of the beholder. The response to the second part could include recording take after take, into double digits; extensive editing, overdubbing, looping, and an electronic helping hand from a spectrum of software and apps.
Internationally acclaimed jazz vocalist Lyn Stanley’s view of perfection includes none of that post-production studio wizardry. For her, perfection is the true sound of a stellar live performance, recorded direct to disc through vintage equipment, in a studio where’s she surrounded by musicians and techs who share her wavelength. The result of such a dream session can be heard on her brand-new vinyl album London with a Twist—Live at Bernie’s, set for release on May 10. 2019.
“There’s a stigma about achieving ‘perfection.’ It takes the art out of what you’re doing if you have to follow what someone else declared to be the rules of engagement,” Stanley declares. “You can run with your creativity if you don’t have to have perfection. What you hear on London with a Twistis what you’d get on stage for real.”
London with a Twistis song stylist Stanley’s seventh release. It’s her second project paying tribute to an earlier sultry Southern California-based singer, Julie London, following 2018’s London Calling—A Toast to Julie London.
Recording direct to disc is a challenge for any musician, as evidenced by the very few albums made under these stringent conditions. Allen Sides, recording and mixing engineer on London with a Twist, compares direct-to-disc recording to “plugging microphones directly into a cutting lathe,” which records the results onto an analog disc. The advantage is the pristine sound resulting from eliminating multiple generations separating the performance from the finished album.
The drawback? So many things can go wrong. With no post-recording modifications possible, a flubbed note, the rustle of turning pages, or the sudden urge to cough either stays on the record or the entire take is scrapped, and the process starts over from scratch. For London with a Twist, each album side consists of a single take: three tunes, 12-14 minutes of music. The viability of each side hung in the balance down to its last note, ratcheting up the stress levels. Lyn found that the pressure worked for her, boosting her concentration and landing her deep in the zone. “I almost had to go into a trance,” she explains.
The high-stakes process of recording direct to disc can inhibit musicians and make them stick to the tried and true instead of breaking creative ground. However, the band–guitarist John Chiodini, pianists Otmaro Ruiz and Mike Lang, bassist Chuck Berghofer, drummer Aaron Serfaty, and percussionist Luis Conte–“didn’t hold back, they played as live as they could,” Stanley notes. She points out that she chose to release the takes based on their performances rather than her own: “I picked the one where I loved what they did.” There was a buzz of solidarity in the studio, with the vocalist and the musicians brainstorming and collaborating to develop arrangements on the spot. By the end of the session, the players had devised a new moniker for themselves: “The Jazz Mavericks.”
Another challenge of direct-to-disc recording is adjusting to the shifting moods of the tunes in the three- to five-second separations between songs. On just one album side, Lyn Stanley’s interpretations run the emotional gamut from the easy swing of “Route 66,” through the rollicking “Pink Cadillac,” to the heartfelt “Lover Man” But despite the pressure-cooker situation, Stanley and The Jazz Mavericks shift through all the feelings seemingly effortlessly, delivering a dozen tunes with a relaxed, creative, swinging sound.
Before the London with a Twistsession even began, Stanley and company encountered a dismaying range of glitches, starting with a lingering case of acute bronchitis that added a little rasp to her voice. Nevertheless, throughout the album she’s projecting with power and pride both vocally and emotionally. Listeners will notice that Lyn’s tone this time around is deeper and sultrier. Her sound is in keeping with her inspiration, Julie London, “But my voice isn’t as husky as hers. I’m not pretending to be Julie, I’m honoring her,” Stanley says.
And then there were mechanical difficulties. The day before the session, a dial broke on the custom-built totally discreet vintage API 16 input console that had been brought in for the session. According to Lyn, whose interest in sound has grown along with her professional career, the board had been “sitting in the bowels of Capitol Records since the 1970s,” so replacement parts aren’t readily available. Unless, of course, you’re working with a veteran mastering engineer such as Bernie Grundman: the Bernieof London with a Twist—Live at Bernie’s. Assistant engineer Beno May rummaged around in his back office at Bernie’s till he found the right part to swap in. “They worked on the repair till midnight,” Stanley recalls.
The next day, the session kicked off as scheduled, but by the end of the first tune one of the piano keys went south. They scuffled to find a piano tech on a Saturday, and came up with a dedicated pro who had recently undergone major heart surgery–“he still had all those things stuck to his skin,” Lyn notes. He was in and out quickly enough that there was still time to record a take of sides A and B, earning a hearty round of applause from all on hand.
The second day of the session also brought technical problems, in this case with Lyn’s venerable Neumann mic. Again, the solution was in Bernie’s deep stash of gear, where they unearthed a similar Neumann for her to use for the rest of the session.
The day yielded enough takes to complete the album, but there was still a wild card to contend with. Bruce Springsteen wouldn’t grant permission for Lyn to release his tune “Pink Cadillac” until he heard her finished version. Without his OK, the album couldn’t be released and all the work by Lyn, The Jazz Mavericks and their stellar tech team would have been in vain. It took more than two nail-biting weeks to get Bruce’s reply—Lyn points out that other license covers typically took about six hours—but the Boss eventually did give his seal of approval.
Throughout the process Lyn was pleased be in the company of such unflappable pros, each armed with deep stores of imagination, patience, and spare parts.
A lifelong audiophile, Stanley welcomed the challenge of recording direct to disc, and is justly proud of the results. She released her first album only six years ago, and believes that being a relative newbie may have given her an advantage over a more experienced singer. “They would know better than to try something like this,” Lyn notes with a laugh. “The direct-to-disc recording process leaves the artist totally exposed. It takes a lot of guts to be this exposed as an artist, saying ‘This is it, take it or leave it.’ Nobody has the guts to do that anymore. There’s no hiding.”
The singer is passionate about improving her art, constantly getting better at what she does and producing albums that are “as real sounding as possible. I want it to sound real versus cosmetically done,” Lyn says. “Whatever happened to real music, with this focus on perfection? Everything is massaged and manipulated, even live albums. There’s even an app to add disc hiss. The real raw is direct to disc!”
She finds the audiophile aspect of recording totally engaging and extremely satisfying. “I’d take a great audio system over a fancy car or a big diamond any day,” the vocalist muses.
In addition to London with a TwistLyn plans to release an addendum album [name here], a single disc with the same songs on each side from different recording sources. “One side was recorded direct to disc, the other was recorded on a souped-up Chevy of a tape machine that Bernie’s got,” Lyn explains. A limited edition pressing of 300 albums will be available May 10 2019 for audiophiles to discover and appreciate the difference in the sound.
The quality of this imaginative and bold recording project will have jazz fans, and audiophiles on the edge of their seats in anticipation of what gifted vocalist Lyn Stanley tries her hand at next.
Executive producer: A.T. Music LLC. Producers: Lyn Stanley and John Chiodini. Arrangers: Lyn Stanley and her band, The Jazz Mavericks: Leader: guitarist John Chiodini; pianists: Otmaro Ruiz, Mike Lang; bassist: Chuck Berghofer; drummer: Aaron Serfaty; percussionist: Luis Conte.
Recorded live at Bernie Grundman’s Mastering Studio, Hollywood, California, January 19-20, 2019. Recording and mixing engineer: Allen Sides; assistant engineers: Steve Genewick, Beno May, Scott Sedilla; disc mastering engineer: Bernie Grundman.