The Khan/Mounsey Saga
Some 10 years have passed since "LOCAL COLOR"(Denon) was recorded in 1987. In the intervening years, Rob has recorded and released three solo CDs: "DIG"('89); "BACK IN THE POOL"('93); and, "MANGO THEORY"('95). He got married and now has two more children in addition to son Alex. For me, those same years saw six solo CDs: "HELPING HAND"('88); "PUBLIC ACCESS"('89); "LET'S CALL THIS"('91); "HEADLINE"('92); "CROSSINGS"('94); and "GOT MY MENTAL"('97). I was also married, and divorced. In January of '93, my father, Sammy Cahn passed away.
As Rob and I were recording "LOCAL COLOR," I always felt that we would someday make another CD together. I just felt that it would be sooner than 10 years! We spoke of the possibility many, many times...and, in the past three to four years, these talks, and the lack of action which followed, had become pretty comical. It seemed that as each calendar year began, we would get together for lunch and a meeting. We would always discuss our musical concepts(a musical 'wish list' of sorts) and some simple business arrangements in principle. We were always in close agreement on virtually all the significant points and issues...but, each year, the weeks and months would come and go and we would have gone no further!
1997 was to be a different story! Of course, we did have our annual lunch & meeting. It was after this particular meeting that I made a 'bet' with my manager and dear friend, Christine Martin(also the Executive Producer of "LOCAL COLOR") that if "tape didn't roll" by February, another year would pass! When Rob phoned shortly after our meeting, I even described our pattern to him and told him of the bet with Christine. We both laughed and vowed not to allow the year to pass us by. It wasn't long after that Rob called again and said that he had made some "percussion loops" and was sending them to me on a DAT to see what I heard. We agreed that he would not provide me with any specifics about the meters involved, but, I know from our past work that Rob loves to work with rhythms involving pulses in three. So, I was on the alert for this.
Shortly after the DAT arrived, Rob faxed me a melodic fragment for one of the loops....the only loop which was in 4/4. It was this theme which would become the letter [A] for "Fazendeiro"("The Farmer" in Portuguese). Almost within an instant of hearing this theme, I could hear an answer to it and faxed Rob a "rejoinder"...and, the process of composition by collaboration had begun. Rob is, to this point, the only individual with whom I can work in this manner, though, during the '80s, I enjoyed a similar process with Anthony Jackson, Steve Jordan, and Manolo Badrena from which we created music for four CDs. Rob's musical sensibilities are the perfect compliment to mine, and to my mind, this recording represents our best work together. I am very, VERY proud of what we've composed and recorded. From the remaining four loops, three other pieces were created, "Clafouti" began for me with an ostinato bass line. "Peanut Soup" evolved in a similar fashion. Both of these compositions feature rolling rhythms in variations of pulses and even sub-pulses in three. Beyond this, the loops and the sounds of the percussion samples create an atmosphere which leads one to hear the music of other nations and cultures. "Platanos Maduros" was actually created from a mistake I made while listening to one of Rob's loops(which was also in three), but, from another room. All I heard was the quarter-note pulse of the finger cymbal, and so I began to write some fragments which were all in 4/4. As the piece developed, Rob just adjusted the loop to accommodate my 'error.' In our talks, we had discussed the idea of trying to create a slow, funereal dirge which could feature an insistent pulse with a staggered and seemingly random bass drum pattern. From this simple notion, we created a new basic loop and "Pallbearers" was born. Again, it seemed that Rob immediately heard our [A] theme to which I added an extension.
During our earliest meetings, we agreed that again we would each contribute one ballad. On "LOCAL COLOR" Rob composed "Mahana" and I brought in "The Blue Rose." Here we have Rob's beautiful composition "Still Life with Mockingbird" and my piece, "Anhelante." For me, the latter has become one of the best things I've ever written. The music on "YOU ARE HERE" is rounded out by the one outside composition, Manolo Badrena's "Viajar y Viajar"("Travel and Travel"...or as Manolo interprets it, "To Wander and Wonder"). I have had Manolo's beautiful, though primitive, homemade demo sitting around the house for some 15 years, just waiting for the right situation to record it. It's haunting beauty is obvious and when I submitted it to Rob, he agreed that this song would fit-in and make our recording a better one. I only wish I could write songs like this!
So, what is our process, our method for creating the compositions and arrangements? As I have previously stated, on this CD we began with Rob's rhythm loops, and both of us sought to hear things, at times, faxing fragments back and forth in preparation for actually getting together. When we felt we had enough to begin, we got together for our first improvisational session. That was on May 19th, 1997. Basically, we just let the digital tape roll on Rob's DA-88 and we improvised to the loops, at times with the bass lines we had agreed upon. These improvisations would often times go on for as long as fifteen minutes per piece. Then, after each performance, we would listen to see if there were any moments of melody, rhythm, or just mood which had enough substance to have staying power in the piece. I would also take home a DAT copy of the improvs and continue the search. At times, the smallest passage heard by one of us as substantial could lead to a full-blown section of the composition you now hear. I know of several instances where Rob plucked-out something which I had improvised and had actually ignored as the tape played back. But, Rob insisted that there was, in fact, something there worth expanding upon. I am immediately reminded of sections I created for "Clafouti" and "Pallbearers." In a process such as this, one must really remain fearless about the very real possibility of playing something stupid on the chance that somewhere within the ten minutes of improvising you may well come-up with at least one moment which may endure. For that alone, all the effort and energy is well worth it! After months of these sessions (and please understand that weeks could pass in between them) and the scrutiny which followed, we were ready to finally record with Richard Alderson at the controls. It was on September 25th that we recorded "Viajar y Viajar," "Anhelante," and "Still Life." "Clafouti," and "Platanos Maduros" were recorded on October 8th. "Peanut Soup," "Fazendeiro," and "Pallbearers" were done on November 14th.
Though I would hardly be the one to discuss all the technological advances in private studio recording since 1987...I'll leave that for Rob! I can say that, to me, it is staggering to view just what is now possible. It is truly a miracle, and, in the hands of a brilliant musician like Rob Mounsey, what can now be done, gets done! That said, I would like to go back to our earliest meetings. One thing I lobbied hardest for was that, at the very least, we would use a "real" percussionist on whichever pieces needed it most. Rob agreed to give it a try. As the character and scope of the music took shape I knew that there was one such musician for the task at hand.
In the past two years, I have had the privilege and pleasure to work with percussionist Marc Quiñones, truly one of the greatest musicians I know on any instrument and in any style or genre of music. We have played together on several projects and I knew that, given the world music flavor of the recording, Marc would be the absolute best person to supply the kind of attitude and muscle needed. Coupled with a wide range of dynamics, Marc brought his talents to five of the pieces. I just can't say enough about what he added to the music. Marc's singularly brilliant contributions were recorded at the Flying Monkey Studio on November 25th.
With Marc's performances now recorded, Rob and I entered the next phase. We carefully worked to put each piece into its final form, making certain that all the essential elements were present and that there was no excess IF possible. In a sense, this process actually continued right up until the final moments. Once this was done and we were in agreement, I left Rob alone to explore...to use his wondrous sensibilities to add any additional melodic or orchestral colors which he felt might best suit each piece. After a tremendous amount of hard work and stunning usage of the available technologies, Rob and I reconvened at Flying Monkey on Sunday, March 1st and he played me what he had done. What I heard was better than I could have ever imagined. I was, and am, at a loss for words of enough praise. I don't know that one recording can capture all of Rob's awesome musicianship and imagination, but, I am honored and thrilled by what I know he has brought to our recording, "YOU ARE HERE." Rob is truly a sensational talent!
The recording was mixed from March 2nd through March 11th with engineer Malcolm Pollack behind the console. The end result represents the interactions of Rob, myself, and Malcolm. Three perspectives joined in a common effort to bring out the best in each tune. It was quite an effort as each piece presented different problems to be solved. I believe that, for each of us, the music is presented with power, clarity, sheen, and dynamic sensitivity. For the moment, I can say that it represents our best work. I hope that you enjoy being "HERE" with us.
-Steve Khan, New York City, 1998