Octave Records has released its first live album, jazz trumpeter Gabriel Mervine’s Live at Nocturne. Recorded in pure DSD 256 high-resolution audio, Live at Nocturne captures the you-are-there excitement, spontaneity and interplay of Gabriel’s quartet as they perform a set of Brazilian- and European-flavored jazz. The album showcases Gabriel’s virtuoso trumpet playing and the distinctive stylings of accordionist/vocalist Alicia Jo Straka, along with Patrick McDevitt on acoustic bass and drummer Braxton Kahn.
“This was a first endeavor for both Octave Records and myself,” said Gabriel, a world-class musician who has worked with Natalie Cole, Christian McBride, Terence Blanchard, the Temptations, the Who, and many others. “I picked music that was fun for the band to play, fun to learn, and fun for the audience to listen to. We kind of jumped in, set up the gear and went for it.”
Live at Nocturne was recorded in pure DSD 256 to capture the true sound of the quartet as it would be heard at a live performance. An AKG vintage C24 tube condenser mic was used as the main stereo microphone, placed in front of the group. All the sound from Gabriel’s horn was captured on this mic. Geffel M930 mics were employed for Alicia’s accordion and vocals, and a stereo pair of DPA 4006a omnidirectional overheads were used on the drums. The mics went into a Manley Force tube preamplifier and Merging Technologies Pyramix 14 recording system. The album was recorded and mixed by Paul McGowan in Octave Records’ state-of-the-art DSD facility, and mastered by Gus Skinas.
Live at Nocturne features Octave’s premium gold disc formulation, and the disc is playable on any SACD, CD, DVD, or Blu-ray player. It also has a high-resolution DSD layer that is accessible by using any SACD player or a PS Audio SACD transport. In addition, the master DSD and PCM files are available for purchase and download, including DSD 256, DSD 128, DSD 64, and DSDDirect Mastered 352.8 kHz/24-bit, 176.2 kHz/24-bit, 96 kHz/24-bit, and 44.1 kHz/16-bit PCM.
The album gets into a head-bopping groove with “Carioquinha,” with Gabriel and Alicia playing one of the many intricate dual-harmony lines they’ll bounce off each other throughout Live at Nocturne. Next up is another Brazilian-flavored tune, “Bossa Dorado,” where Gabriel takes off with a soaring solo. “Just One for Babik” spotlights the propulsive drumming of Braxton Kahn, with every nuance of his drum kit and playing heard with exceptional detail and dynamics. “Ménilmontant” features Alicia Jo Straka’s singing, evocative of the Paris neighborhood after which the song is named. Other album highlights include the band’s easy-swing take on “It Might As Well Be Spring,” and a contemplative version of Django Reinhart’s “Nuages.”
I talked with Gabriel about the making of Live at Nocturne.
Frank Doris: What made you decide to do a live album?
Gabriel Mervine: A live album is a very different experience mentally [and] musically, and a live performance can be a little difficult. But Octave Records really wanted to go for it, and so we just kind of jumped in and picked a date, set up the gear, and recorded it.
FD: Did you do it all on one night?
GM: Yes. This was really a first endeavor for myself and for Octave Records.
FD: Is this a group that you play with regularly, or did you put it together for the album?
GM: They’re musicians I work with quite frequently in different iterations, with the exception of Alicia. The music I get to play with her is unique to our group. I don’t really get to play that music much elsewhere – some of the French musette style, the waltzes, the Brazilian music – that makes it so much fun to get to work with her. She’s just got great energy and a great presence about her.
FD: She’s so distinctive and her playing gives the album such a unique flavor. How many jazz accordion players do you hear?
Why did you pick the songs that you did?
GM: When Octave Records initially approached me about doing a live recording, I more or less thought [it would be] a trial run.
GM: They’d never recorded a live show. So I was kind of coming into it thinking, this is a good first step in this direction, but I’m gonna keep my focus on the live performance, what best suits this show tonight. Yeah. And just like any bandleader you think about pacing of a set, the faster tempos, the slower tempos, the major keys, the minor keys. What songs is she gonna sing, when can we have the right drum solo and bass solo. That actually ended up providing a lot of different styles for a live album.
One more thing to add is that rehearsal time was really at a minimum.
FD: Why does everybody always say that?!
GM: Alicia’s got a newborn. It’s tough to get four or five schedules lined up. And to be honest, as we all know, this isn’t the most lucrative profession. So we’re all trying to tie things together to make a living, to make our mortgage, support our families. And time is valuable. So, I take music that’s complicated enough that it’s fun for the audience and fun for the band to play, but not so complicated that we have to spend hours and hours working on it. With that being said, some of the faster…like the Brazilian tunes…I definitely sit down and practice those quite a bit.
FD: The band sounds tight, but has a little bit of an off-the-cuff kind of feel. Obviously when you and Alicia played those lines together it’s pretty tight. But it also has a little bit of a loose feel, which I think is a great combination.
GM: Yes. I had to remind myself of exactly what you just said, (laughs). ‘Cause I was hesitant to release this music, though Paul [McGowan] loved the vibe. And you know what, at a certain point I reminded myself of exactly what you just said. Some of my favorite recordings are where we [hear] the humanity and the musicians. That’s the true mirror.
It’s like I’m really peering into what it was like that day. One of my favorite things to listen to is the, the Miles Davis full version of “Freedom Jazz Dance” on YouTube. It’s 20 minutes long.
It’s not actually on the album. It’s basically 20 minutes of them trying to learn the song together. It ends with them starting the take of the actual version they released, which basically tells us they rehearsed the tune until they could play it and not a moment more. And then as soon as they could get through the song without falling apart, they made it for the album. (laughs) So I was reminding myself of that, that I love getting to peer into the lives of these heroes of mine through the imperfection.
And so I [thought] let’s just go for it [with Live at Nocturne]. And I really hope that this is the beginning of something, not the end. I would love to have more experience doing live recordings and just creating more music to contribute to the lineage of this art form.
FD: For the benefit of readers who might not have read our last interview (in Issue 132), who are some of your influences?
GM: On the trumpet, you know, I gotta say Freddie Hubbard, Miles Davis, Lee Morgan, Clifford Brown, Chet Baker. For some of the more Brazilian-inspired music I play with Alicia, Wynton Marsalis has a really cool recording of him playing a tune called “Um a Zero.” This is like my classical music, practicing this. Paquito D’Rivera.
My parents are both classical musicians. I listen to classical music all the time. I have too many influences to name. They ebb and flow quite a bit. And we’re so lucky that we can listen to any song we want at any time. 150 years ago, you were lucky to [even] hear your favorite symphony or whatever, three or four times in your life. And if you wanted to hear it, you had to know somebody who could play it, and who owned the instrument, or you had to buy the sheet music, and then learn it yourself.
FD: Or back in the day when you wanted to learn a song you would drop the needle on the record over and over again until you got the part down.
GM: I still do that quite a bit actually (laughs). And also, that’s just a fun way to learn music. I have my students do that. I do that myself. I’ll just play along with [the music] with my horn until I learn the whole thing. And then frequently I’ll end up writing out the rest of the parts, and then I can start playing that favorite song with my own band.
FD: It’s impossible to tell what it sounded like from the audience, but how well do you think Live at Nocturne got the sound of the band as you actually sound, playing in the club?
GM: I’m happy with it. Like I said, I, this was the very first time they brought out that recording rig, and this was our one and only night. It’s raw. But I feel like they did a really good job capturing what we were doing there. And I couldn’t feel more support from Octave and everyone. I really feel like they’re in my corner and they kind of emboldened me to release this.
FD: What kind of trumpet do you play?
GM: I’m a big-time student of the instrument, and I love working at it. I practice all the time, and I frequently change equipment. Different horns, different mouthpieces. It helps me become a better teacher, a better player. On this recording I was playing sort of the standard professional trumpet fare, a Bach Stradivarius. For the initiated, with a Bach 3C mouthpiece.
FD: It’s a good combination of richness and cutting.
GM: That’s a great deal of what I work on. I really gravitate towards the sound of the fluegelhorn, [and] the mellowness of the trumpet. But as somebody who plays trumpet for a living, I get called to also play larger ensemble gigs, louder gigs, big band gigs, funk gigs. You gotta have a sound that can cut over a rhythm section and an amplified rhythm section a lot of the time. So I try and toe the line somewhere in the middle of that sound where I can get a mellow, beautiful sound for those ballads and small group jazz work like we were doing [on Live at Nocturne], and then also play equipment and develop a embouchure and control of my instrument where I can also light up that sound and really create a brighter timbre to sing over the ensemble.
FD: The album isn’t your typical “jazz” album in some respects.
GM: That’s honestly one of my goals with performing with my instrument – always be evolving and growing and keep myself progressing by playing new styles of music.