Artist Name: Nick Smith Title: Wes Montgomery Genre: Jazz Rating:
Apple Mac Pro (8-core Xeon 3.2 GHz with 24 GB RAM) with MOTU 828mk2 audio interface running Apple Logic Pro X and MakeMusic Finale. Plug-ins: Synthogy Ivory II (piano), Spectrasonics Trilian (bass), FXpansion BFD3 (drums). Yamaha Motif XS keyboard workstation (guitar), Kurzweil PC3x (keyboard controller for all parts).
Production Notes & Credits
“Wes Montgomery” is a straightahead jazz quartet piece. Nick did everything up to the final mix: composing, arranging, production, and all of the instrument parts. The tracks were recorded in Nick’s home studio and mixed/mastered by Dennis Moody at his studio in Los Angeles.
Reviewed By Mike Metlay
Every once in a while, a track comes along that reminds us that rules are meant to be broken, and if “everybody knows” something, they’re probably wrong. That’s how we felt when we heard “Wes Montgomery”, an aptly-named tribute to the great jazzman composed and played by Nick at home, doing the one-man-band thing with a DAW and a couple of synthesizers.
Now, “everybody knows” that there’s no way that one musician, no matter how talented and dedicated, can create a truly convincing track with virtual simulations of real instruments, inside a DAW and played with MIDI controllers; you’ll always be able to spot that it’s canned, artificial, fake-sounding. Right? Oh, so very wrong!
First and foremost, this track is the work of a consummate musician: a brilliant pianist and an impeccable arranger, with an instinctive knowledge of the style and the instrumentation. There’s nothing here to jar you out of the feeling that you’re hearing a great jazz quartet and nothing more (or less).
Nick almost completely avoids the trap of thinking, “Well, if my sources are electronic, it couldn’t hurt to throw in a few synthy tricks as I play, could it?”. Everything is delivered with impeccable reverence for the genre and instrumentation, with nothing out of place. He really sells the authenticity in his tones as well as their orchestration.
Speaking of tones, the elements used in the track are carefully chosen from among the very best out there. If you’re wondering what the difference is between a world-class virtual instrument and something you can get for next to nothing, listen to the sources used in “Wes Montgomery”. Realism in a virtual instrument comes down to the last fraction of a percent when it comes to responsiveness, articulation, and timbral variety, and a player of Nick’s caliber wrings every last detail out of the Ivory II Italian Grand in choruses, backing, and solos.
The Yamaha Motif XS workstation delivers a jazz guitar performance that’s scary-good; Nick tweaked the existing preset to perfection, and his playing technique easily slips back and forth between effortless accompaniment and a sweetly understated solo at the appropriate point in the song.
The rhythm section is note-perfect. People wonder why Spectrasonics put so much effort into Trilian, since it’s “just a bass”. The bass is the spine of most modern musical styles; if it’s off, the whole track falls apart. No worries here, though, the bass part is solid, well-balanced, and exactly where it should be, and Nick doesn’t risk compromising the track by exposing it for a solo. As for the drums, people are used to thinking of BFD3 as a primarily techno or rock drum design tool, but this beautifully played and mixed kit reveals it’s capable of finely nuanced jazz playing, too. Nick plays like a jazz drummer, with nary an impossible drum-machine lick in evidence.
The only hint anywhere in the song that the sources aren’t acoustic comes in the last three seconds, with a tiny pitch-wheel downbend on the bass and guitar that we’re pretty sure Nick threw in as a final wink to the audience. Oh, and special note must be made of Dennis Moody’s intimate mix, which truly makes the most of all the elements.
We recommend that our SPOTLIGHT audience kick back and just enjoy this beautiful jazz track on its own merits; it’s a sweet treat. Those looking for enlightenment from this song should take this away: the modern tools for musicmaking do allow this level of convincing beauty and realism, if the recording musician pushes them (and himself/herself) to the limit. This isn’t a big-box-store PC running a cheap DAW with garden-variety plug-ins and played with a cheap keyboard; the tools are among the best you can get, so they never let Nick down.
More to the point, though, is that they allow Nick’s musicianship and ear for beauty to shine through unhindered. We get a feeling that Nick could produce great songs from even a bargain-basement rig, because the real magic of “Wes Montgomery” is in his head, ears, and hands. If you gave his amazing setup to a careless, hurried musician, the results would sound careless and hurried. Fortunately for us all, Nick is neither.
Serious tools plus serious effort equals serious results!
Nick Smith, www.nicksmithmusic.com