The following story appeared in the August 12 Idaho Catholic Register.
In September of 2019, an original Jazz Mass composed by Boisean Kevin Kirk was presented at Kirk’s home parish of St. Mary’s in Boise.
The event was received so enthusiastically that a plan was hatched for the musicians, all from Idaho, to record a CD. But COVID delayed the project. “The door was slammed shut on recording the Jazz Mass as an ensemble because this method of recording would entail all 11 participating musicians gathering together in a sealed studio space, singing and playing their hearts out,” Kirk said. “This scenario may be ideal for capturing the evocative energy of the Jazz Mass, but it is a veritable nightmare,” for COVID transmission. “Therefore, the project had to be re-envisioned.”
It took 2½ years to record the CD, according to Kirk. To celebrate its release, the ensemble will be doing an encore performance on Sunday, Aug. 28, at 4 p.m. at St. Mary’s Church, 2614 W. State St. in Boise.
As COVID conditions worsened, Kirk and the band were forced to take a “divide and conquer” approach. Their parts would have to be individually recorded and then be digitally sewn together in the studio.
“The recording regimen became equal measures of music-making and problem-solving,” Kirk said.
First, Kirk recorded keyboard parts while he imagined the entire ensemble playing with him. He avoided playing anything that would conflict with his collaborators future contributions.
Next, Kirk and drummer Jon Hyneman, after memorizing every second of the Mass’ score, spent six weeks creating a tempo map by calculating the beats and exact measures and transitions of songs, creating a digital metronome. Many of Kirk’s compositions had sophisticated meter and tempo changes, which made the process musically and mathematically challenging.
Informed by the tempo map, Kirk recorded his “finished” piano parts making
them, as he describes it, “more prayerful and refined.”
Then, Hyneman on drums, and bassist Mike Seifrit masked-up and set up in extreme corners of the studio’s largest recording suite, listened to the piano tracks through headphones. In 2½ days, the duo recorded the entire Mass with absolute precision, providing the rest of the company a solid foundation on which to record their tracks.
Doors were slammed shut again as variant waves of COVID attacked, but when the cases let up, the woodwinds entered the studio. Since wearing masks is not an option for saxophone and flute players, Mike Humrichouse on saxophone and Greg Bishop on
flute, recorded at the same time, isolated by partitions. They played their parts while listening through headphones to the previously recorded piano, drums and bass tracks. Informed by a thorough understanding of the melody and message of each song, Humrichouse arranged and scored their parts, overlaying them to add sonoric texture to the overall compositions.
The studio was sanitized between each recording session, but especially before and between each vocalist.
“During a typical recording session, a vocal ensemble would be positioned in a circle around one or two large micro-phones, allowing the singers to have eye contact and draw on each other’s energy, but this was not possible with COVID,” Kirk said.
To resolve the dilemma, each vocalist was recorded individually
or separated by full partitions. The singers had to don headsets, envision the choir around them, endure the technical challenges, and still make it all flow naturally. “Luke Carter, Ellie Shaw, Bob Parsley, Patti Gabica and Joey Haas more than stepped up to this challenge,” Kirk said. “Overcoming the obstacles actually intensified these artists’ devotion, throwing new doors fully open.”
Finally, it was time for Hyneman to return to the studio to lay down concert congas, bongos and the full array of percussion instruments. Father John Worster, pastor at St. Mary’s, recorded the spoken word segment of “The Lord’s Prayer.”
The project was recorded at The Tonic Room Studios with the contributions of owner Jason Ringelstetter.
“It is said that the worst thing about being recorded is the awareness that everything you do is captured forever. The best thing about being recorded is that everything you do is captured forever,” Kirk said. “Ringelstetter, a master recording and mixing engineer, nurtured and captured the best performances from each artist and what he seamlessly captured is pure magic. His mixing distilled the finished recording into much more than the sum of its parts.
Finally, after 2½ years, “Sacred Music A Jazz Prayer” is complete and ready for distribution.
“Each time COVID-19 slammed a door shut during the recording, mixing and mastering of this studio production, better doors opened. This happens when the Holy Spirit joins the band,” Kirk said.
The CD is available at kevinkirk.com or at The Record Exchange in Boise. A reception will follow the 4 p.m. Mass at St. Mary’s Church on Aug. 28.
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