Archive for the 'Microphone' Category

Touring, Gigs and Teaching!

Saturday, September 8th, 2012

The summer was full of great experiences. The Festival in Copenhagen was a good start with as highlight a duo concert with Nikolaj Hess at the Thorveldsens Museum. I love playing duo format, and I think this one was one of the best we have done so far. The Festival also gave me an opportunity to connect on stage with Bob Moses and reconnect with Anders Christensen (AC).

Plus, two more special events happened. I have been in contact with a great Jazz fan (Jørgen) who has photographed all the greats for over 40 years. He mentioned a photograph of Ben Webster that he got from another photographer named Jørgen Bo. We have been talking for years about Ben Webster and I mentioned my special connection with him. He came to one of the concerts and gave this special photograph of Ben Webster as a present, and what a great present it is, check it out, it is amazing
Great tenor saxophonist Ben Webster

Talking about Jørgen’s, there is another one I have been in contact with in DK, Jørgen Skov Sørensen, and he wrote a great heiku poem based on a concert that I did in a small but special place in Copenhagen named Bartof. The English version is a translation, the orginal is in Danish. Quit an honor:

Toner i nuet
Saxofon blæser vinter
Forløsning i dur

Sounds in present tense
Saxophone blowing winter
Major redemption

Back in NYC I dived into the Summer Summit Series organized by the NYJW and started it up with a great four day improv/composition intensive including Tim Horner.
This was followed up by another four-day intensive organized by HJW held in Hudson NY. This included Armen Donelian and Joe Locke. Both workshops were fantastic, with great students. This will definitely be repeated in 2013.

For all the saxophonists in the field, I finally finished the third installment of a series of articles written with as premise finding the ultimate microphone for saxophone for on the road. Part III is all about the Ribbon Mics and the article came out great thanks to the text editing and support of Matthew McGlynn and the recording of Charles Martinez. Please check it out if interested.

I am very excited about an exhibition of my fathers work in the Hudson Opera House. This is the first time that a part of my father’s Jazz collection is being shown in public in the US. It involves photographs of the larger then life paintings made by my father. These photographs are hand-printed and were supervised by my father. In 2009 he passed away, but his spirit lives on. If you are in the neighborhood check it out, or visit my page and click on the images to get an idea

When I was playing in Cleveland at the Night Town I met this elegant lady named Patty Coker. She asked me if I knew her husband, Jerry Coker. Jerry wrote many books for saxophonists to practice out of, and I own and worked through one of them a long time ago. Therefore I was quit surprised and felt honored to get to meet Patty. We stayed in contact and she sent me Jerry’s latest book “the Jazz Improvisor’s reference”.

The title says it all, very well put together, concise and to the point, a real one on one basics overview. Plus, what I really like and what you normally do not encounter in a book for improvisers is a special chapter on piano for non-pianists. Very cool, and in my opinion very important. Next time maybe he can include also a special chapter on drums for non-drummers.

But there is more, a lot of playing action in September with several different formations including my own band LANDMARC at the Corneliastreet café on Friday September 28.
Please stop by when you can. On the 7th I did this great gig at the Deerhead Inn, what a special place. You can really feel the vibe and the room sounds great, plus great audience. It was the group of Billy Test, a great pianist to look out for. A great talent. We will play again at the Kitano in NYC September 27, a day before my LANDMARC gig.
I will also be part of a special benefit concert in Hudson organized by HOH. There I will be playing duo with Armen Donelian. (Sept.29).

And, one more last thing, the record of Amina Figarova, Twelve, is doing great. It has been in the top ten of the Jazz Charts for a long period of time, and the record of Tim Horner, the places we went, is also doing beautifully, getting radio-play and a lot of respect and good vibes from the Jazz Community and beyond.

10 States, Summer action and Copenhagen.

Thursday, June 7th, 2012

In May I was on a two and a half week tour with the Amina Figarova sextet promoting the new release “Twelve”. We traveled through 10 states playing 16 concerts in 14 city’s which was quit an experience. Some of the highlights where the New Orleans Jazz Festival (the food was out of control and I managed to eat the whole band under the table), the concert at the Bach Society in Half Moon Bay (and we actually saw two whales in the bay), two great nights in Missoula (also great food, the organizer is a fantastic cook) and the Jazz Alley in Seattle (fantastic sound on stage, one of the best sound engineers I experienced in a live setting). There is more coming in the Fall and there are already bookings for 2013. Bart, the organizer in the band is unbelievable and he put together a short youtube video footage on the recording session:
The Making of Twelve

I just did a concert with the band of Tim Horner in Smalls, NYC. The concert was smokin’, I love playing with these ace musicians. And I can’t say enough about Tim, he wrote all the material and he clearly has a gift for it. All his experience is coming through in his writing.

As mentioned in the last newsletter I have been writing articles on mics for Saxophone. This month I have been trying out a series of microphones in preparation for the ribbon article and it has been quit a trip. I didn’t know how unbelievably different all these mics. sound. The article should be live by the end of the month. I already have a “winner” in mind which will be discussed in the fourth and last article in which I will make a comparison between the Dynamic, the Condenser and the Ribbon microphones.

On the 17th of June I will be playing with the group of Tony Moreno at the legendary 55bar. His music is phenomenal, and in his group you will always be playing with the best of the best. I can’t wait.

And Nikolaj Hess, whom I have collaborated with in the last 15 years, will be in town and we will be playing at the Corneliastreet café on June 28, like old times. This is a precursor to the Copenhagen Jazz Festival where I will be from the 12th through the 15th of July. It is going to be a killer band: Nikolaj on piano, Francois Moutin on bass and Gregory Hutchinson on drums. This is the first time I will be playing with Gregory, very exciting.

Another first is getting acquainted with Bill Cunliffe, a great pianist and a reharm. monster. I had the pleasure to sit in with him at the Kitano in NYC and the band included Tim Horner and Boris Koslov.

Some more exciting news. As many of you know I am the co-director of the NYJW. Together with Marco Chelo, the other director, we wrote a business plan. Yes you hear it right, and man, what a trip that is. It took us a few months but its finished and we can’t wait to move the program up to a new level. We are actively looking for our own dedicated space in Midtown Manhattan, if you have any tips please let us know. Did I mention we are an official LLC. One step at the time.

Touring, recording, summer workshops and more.

Monday, May 7th, 2012

The tour with Landmarc in EU was very successful and we had a ball. The band sounded so great, what a line-up. To check out the vibe please go to Jazzgallery and click on the video page, there you see a great sample of our playing plus an interview hosted by written in music.

The second article on the quest for the best live mic for saxophone is out and can be read in Matthew’s recordinghacks, a great site if you would like to stay up to date with the latest in sound-production. This article features the condenser microphones and it includes samples which is pretty hip. Next is an article on ribbon microphones. Should be out in the end of June.

At the moment I am on the road with the sextet of Amina Figarova. It is a working band that sticks together, and you can hear it. The band is great live and the new release “Twelve” just came out and sounds amazing, also thanks to Systems Two Recording Studio in Brooklyn. I have done many recordings there, I love that place, they are the best. This is the first time I got to work with Max, the engineer and apprentice of Mike. He killed it, both with Max or Mike you can’t go wrong.

I will be back in Copenhagen for the festival in July, a yearly tradition, and I can’t wait to play with Nikolaj Hess, he always cooks up a great line-up and a lot of playing.

I am also involved in two summer workshops, the improv/composition intensive which I do together with Tim Horner (NYJW). It will be held around the corner of Times Square. And I am equally excited about Hudson Jazzworks, a great retreat in the Hudson Area where 10 extremely talented students come together to play and learn. This program is associated with the conservatory of Amsterdam, Copenhagen and the MSM in Manhattan. If you are interested in signing up now would be a good time.

I was contacted by Stephen Bett, a great poet from Canada. He wrote a fantastic poem inspired by my music and it will be published titled: Sound Off: a book of jazz. Here is the pod-cast of the poem.
Poem written by Stephen Bett, inspired by music of Marc Mommaas

I am very excited about this. I have had a few experiences in which there was a cross-over between different art-forms. I wrote an essay on Jazz for a publication named “brilliant corners’ and I recently did a gig in Mexico where they and video behind the band which was spectacular. I hope to get more opportunities in that direction.

Another first; I had a great concert in Arnhem and the booker came with the idea to hang up the Jazz collection of my father, a fantastic painter. It was amazing. We had the paintings on chairs on the side of the stage, and it was as if the whole Jazz history was present in the room. I had Elvin and Trane on top in the middle, couldn’t help myself. Plus, my father past away in 2007. To have his work in the room was fantastic.

And a small word about New Orleans. I just played there at the festival and still miss the food. Nothing short to spectacular. A great vibe and I think it is save to say that New Orleans is back on their feet and cookin’ with gas.

The quest for the ultimate saxophone mic for live performance!

Tuesday, October 11th, 2011

As a Jazz musician you spend a lot of time on the road being exposed to a great variety of concert halls, Jazz clubs and outdoor Jazz festivals. Each space presents a complex of variables that a sound-engineer has to deal with in order to translate the acoustic sound on stage to the audience through amplification. How successful this endeavor is depends on the expertise of the engineer, his familiarity with the space, his ears and common sense, and the budget he is working with in order to get the right equipment for the situation. From experience I can tell you that in 2 out of 10 concerts sound-engineers get it right. But 4 to 5 of the 10 concerts are an absolute disaster regarding the mix that the audience get in the room and the mix that the musicians get over their monitor (if a monitor is needed). Now, part of being an experienced musician is that you play strong and with a clear head no matter the circumstances, that is part of your road chops and it comes with the territory so to speak. But lately I dedicated some time to find a microphone that works for me with the purpose to take at least one variable out of the equation that can be messed with, the microphone.

There are a few practical criteria’s that limit the choice of microphones substantially. First there has to be the understanding that you are not in a recording studio. You deal with instruments around you causing a certain amount of bleed. Therefore sensitivity of a mic including the Cardioid pattern needs to be taken into consideration. Also we have to anticipate sound engineers whom have no business being behind the board. Therefore, forget about pre-amps and phantom power specifics. If you have a beautiful ribbon mic the engineer can kill it with one wrong move on the board (although there are designs in the market that have build in protections, I believe it is a dart with poison that shoots at the engineer). Then there is another detail. As a traveling musician you deal with planes. You can only bring one bag (your horn) as hand luggage and one carry-on if you are lucky (shoulder-bag with your labtop etc.). Therefore, ideally the mic is small enough to fit in the case of your horn.

Now lets get to the saxophone in relationship to the microphone. Positioning the mic right in front and close to the bell is NOT the ideal spot for the mic for a very simple reason, the sound of a saxophone comes out of all the tone holes in the horn, not only the bell. This means that the mic needs to cover on average 20 inches from the top to the bottom of the horn, with the sweet-spot being 15 inches around the center. I know that there are horn players out there that like the mic close to the bell, it gives you more presence, more articulation, more clarity and a sense of power. But it will sound amplified and you will pay in quality in the high and/or low register of your horn depending on how you angle the mic. I am looking for the most natural sound, and I would like the high register to sound as balanced as the mid and low part of the horn. Then there is the option to have a clip-on on the bell. I prefer the mic to be on a boom stand for two reasons. First, to avoid variability of sound pickup over the registers as described above, but second and maybe even more important, I need the possibility to be able to get away from the mic for dynamic nuances. When playing live the mic needs to be amped up to get through specifically when you play with strong drummers and when surrounded by guitar and bass amps, but that same volume could be to hot when trying to blend with other horns in a subtle piece. This issue is no problem when you have the ability to step away from the mic. Blending in becomes much easier to control plus this way you hopefully avoid the engineers impulse to mess with your volume through the concert often resulting in him or her forgetting to putting the volume back to its original position after a soft piece.

What would be ideal? A microphone that is durable, not to big, on a boom stand, and able to pick up the sound of the whole horn in the most natural way possible without too much bleed from the rest of the band. Is it possible? Well, as I mentioned before, I am on a quest and recordinghacks was so kind to lend me four microphones to get started with; The Audix5, the Electrovoice N/D 468, the Electrovoice RE320 and the Beyerdynamic M99. I compared it with the Shure 58, a dynamic microphone with a cardioid pattern which has been an industry standard for over 40 years. Why not a Shure 57 that supposedly is designed specifically for instruments? The 57 is my worst nightmare, the absolute bottom of the pit. I rather play acoustic with nobody hearing me including myself because of the drums whaling behind me, then having to deal with the shure 57. I am making a point of this because I can’t tell you how many times sound engineers have come to me with this mic telling me that this is the perfect mic for saxophone. I always make them switch to the 58. The 57 is nasal, to directional, no high, no low, and a flat metallic mid. Oke, I think I made my point. I know that there are horn players out there that love the 57, specifically the rockers. May the force be with them.

As you might have noticed, all these mics are dynamic which I thought was a good point to start from. They are very durable and are not sensitive to feedback on stage plus they tend to be compact in design. Here are my observations:

Audix5
-Dynamic with a Hypercardioid pattern.
Very good pick up of the low frequencies. The mid frequencies feel a bit on the flat side with little space in the sound and the high frequencies are on the dull side. This is partly explained by the fact that this mic is very directional which is great for the drums, but not ideal for the saxophone as described above. The hypercardioid pattern is a good thing, it gives a little depth to the sound and after trying these four mics plus a few others with a figure eight pattern I learned that bleed from the audience is not as much of an issue as I originally anticipated on. Also I was very surprised that there was little bleed from the drums behind me. Learning already, so here we go:
plus: small, durable, robust and inexpensive. Very nice pickup of the low frequencies.
minus: not that great for the mid and high frequencies of the saxophone and to directional.

Electrovoice RE320
-Dynamic with a Cardioid pattern
This microphone has a few different settings, the voice mode with a flat frequency response and a mode with a boost in the higher frequencies. I tried them both for the saxophone.
I am not unfamiliar with the RE series. I have worked with the standard RE20 and liked it. I did find it a bit on the dull side but overall it was a good experience and it has a nice feel of space in the sound.
The RE320 has a warm quality, has a nice sense of space in the sound (more then the other three probably because of the unique design, this one is significantly bigger then the other three), and has a relatively high output. The problem again is that the microphone is to directional. Plus, the sound is rather harsh for the saxophone. The high frequencies sound particularly unpleasant. I can see how this mic can be the perfect mic for voice in a radio booth and it would probably work very well for trombone where the sound output of the instrument is more concentrated, but for the saxophone the RE320 is far from ideal.
What I learned is that a Cardioid pattern does not automatically mean less space in sound. Although my general experience is that the figure eight pattern or the hyper- and supercardioid patterns give more depth to the sounds then the regular Cardioid, I was proven wrong with this mic.
plus: warm, nice sense of space in the sound, not to expensive and nice design.
minus: to big to carry in your instrument case, has a general harshness to the sound particularly in the mid and high frequencies. Not impressed with the pickup of the high frequencies.

Beyerdynamic M99
-Dynamic with a Hypercardioid pattern.
I was very excited about having the Beyerdynamic M99 in the mix. This particular dynamic microphone has a large diaphram, a moving coil and a hypercardioid pattern. I was hoping this would open up the sound a bit. The Beyerdynamic M99 has three positions, a linear frequency pattern (flat), one with a dip in the mid frequencies and one with a gradual boost in the mid-high to high frequencies. The sound definitely had a open quality to it, but it was not as pleasant as I anticipated on. There was a metallic edge to the sound, and I could not get a balanced sound over the whole register of the horn, no matter how I positioned the microphone.
plus: open sound, nice design.
minus: metallic edge and to directional for the saxophone.

Electrovoice N/D 468
-Dynamic with a Supercardioid pattern.
I was very curious about this microphone. The N/D 468 is made with voice and instruments in mind, has a supercardioid pattern and a pivoting head design, which could possibly be ideal for saxophone. What I noticed first was the output of this mic. There was significantly more volume coming out of this mic then the other three. The tone was warm but not too dense, and had less variation over the whole register then the other three mics. From the four microphones tested this one was the most fun to play through. The pivoting head made it very easy to fine tune the position of the mic in order to find the sweet spot.
On the frequency response graphics it showed that there is a significant boost in the mid-high to high frequencies which I was a little concerned about, but I was proven wrong with this mic. The warmth stayed over the whole register and there was less of an edge then the other mics. One last positive note is that it is not a large microphone, it will fit in your case and the design looks very durable. One minor point is that the sound is not as natural as I would like it to be, it has a specific character that is very dominant. But I am learning that this is the nature of the beast with the dynamic microphone. Overall the EV N/D 468 is definitely an upgrade from the Shure 58.
plus: small and beautiful design, warm and pleasant sound over the whole register, pivoting head, not expensive and durable.
minus: not as natural sounding as I would like it to be.

Conclusion
This was a great learning experience for me. I learned that there is an amazing difference between the four mics, and it always surprises me how much influence the character of the microphone has over your tone. The dynamic microphone is attractive due to its durability but you will not get that natural sound that you would like to hear. There is a nasal quality that I do not seem to be able to get ride of with any dynamic microphone plus they in various degrees tend to be to directional for the saxophone. The cardioid patterns will give you an indication in directionality and openness of the sound but it is not set in stone as shown by the RE 320. Also, you cannot take the frequency response graphics of each mic to literally as proven by the N/D 468. The N/D 468 is my favorite mic over these three, but it has its limits which comes with the dynamic technology. I am starting to think that dynamic is not the way to go, the shure gets replaced by the N/D 468 but the quest continuous.