Reno Jazz Orchestra releases “Spirits” (commentary)


Presented by Chuck Reider, Reno Jazz Orchestra

Today I am proud to announce the release of our fifth album, “Spirits”, which is a collection of music from Earth, Wind, and Fire (EWF) and our first studio recording since 2000. Last year and this has been a challenge for all of us and this album is an answer to that challenge. As EWF leader Maurice White said, “Most people cannot see beauty and love. I see our music as medicine. Their music is that medicine we need right now and RJO is proud to present our interpretation.

In early 2020, we put together the material for an EWF concert with arrangements from the band members. As it became clear that there would be no 2020 concert season, we decided to make an album, not with the whole band playing together, but rather section by section to be COVID safe.

The RJO has always prepared itself as a complete set. The arrangers would provide drafts of the arrangements, distribute the parts for each of the musicians, and we rehearse to refine the final arrangements. This was not an option during COVID and I was delighted that the group was wholeheartedly behind the project.

With the arrangements in hand, the rhythm section began the process by rehearsing, socially aloof, in the Good Luck Macbeth Theater on August 19, 2020, followed by saxophones on August 25, trumpets on August 30, and trombones on September 1. The recording sessions kicked off with the rhythm section on August 30 at Tanglewood Productions. During the following weeks, the other sections came to record their games.

RJO’s Andy Heglund on drums working on “Spirits”. Image: RJO

From the end of October, it was time for me and Michael Eardley, owner of Tanglewood Productions, to edit all the instrumental parts. During this time, the seven singers rehearsed their main and background parts under the direction of Lori Johnson.

With the edited instrumental parts, we invited the singers to record the choirs in mid-November. The vocals were recorded in isolation to separate the vocals on individual tracks. It was a bit tricky as there were three isolation booths and the main room to isolate and be safe COVID. Four singers recorded all their background parts, followed by the other three singers.

Ten songs with backing vocals took a lot of studio time to create all of these tracks. Then, as with the group, came the editing. Between the holidays and the fixing of the cut dates, it was not until the beginning of January that the lead singers recorded their parts.

Once the band and the vocal tracks were finished, we brought in the instrumental soloists to drop off their tracks in February. It was a pleasure for Michael and I to hear the songs develop as each section, vocals and soloists added their parts. It was (and is!) Amazing to me that the rhythm section could lay such a solid foundation for the rest of the band without hearing what the rest of the band would establish.

Ended? Not yet…

From March to June, Eardley and I became best friends and spent many hours completing the project. Mixing is the art of getting the right volume levels for each of the eighteen instruments, seven singers and soloists so that everyone can be heard. Equally important is stereo placement so that each instrument / voice has space in stereo to not be overlapped by another instrument / voice.

Inside the Tanglewood Productions control booth during RJO work "Spirits."
Inside the Tanglewood Productions control booth while working on RJO’s “Spirits”. Image: RJO

Here Eardley was a master! You don’t just set a level and leave it. Most of the time you have to adjust this level for each part as the song progresses to match everyone. His dedication to this project was inspiring and fully visible during this part of the project.

Ended? To get closer….

We decided to enhance two songs with special effects: the opening song “Shining Star” and at the end of “After the Love Has Gone”. It was really fun to add these elements.

The end of the recording process is called mastering where you make sure each song is on par with the others to ensure consistency across the entire album. It sounds simple, but it’s an art in itself.

Speaking of art, somewhere along the way it was time to design the cover art and layout of the CD packaging. Here Chris Casaceli shone. Her cover illustrations are both beautiful and creative. Eardley helped with the complete layout of the package listing songs, musicians, credits, etc.

The “Spirits” project lasted a year and it was a family affair to let you know. Thank you to the staff and donors who have had confidence in achieving this goal. It took passion, resilience and wit to bring you the finished product.

Thanks to the band and the singers:

Saxony Trumpets Paper clips
Viola 1 Karl Busch Josh dunlap Dean Carter
Viola 2 Dallas smith Josh rose John bennum
Tenor 1 Jim Garaventa Larry Machado Scott Thunder
Tenor 2 Chris Casaceli Julien knowles Cody Forcier
Baritone Mauro DiGioia
Rhythm section Singers
Guitar Joey berger Lori Johnson – vocal arranger
Keyboards Angelo Monroy David Wells
Electric bass Hans Halte Pierre de Trey
Drums Andy heglund Caitlin collins martin
Percussion David Gervais Kira Mcglothen
Kandeh jones
Stanley bailey

Maurice White said: “Music is always a creative process that comes from the heart. It is a sensation, a vibration, on which we roll. “Spirits” is one of those vibrations. It is my hope through the eyes of the other that humanity will rise from the vibrations between all of us.

Chuck Reider is the Chairman of the Board of Directors of the Reno Jazz Orchestra. Visit www.renojazzorchestra for more information on “Spirits”.

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Henry R. Wright

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